‘Strong Bonds’ relationship workshop reconnects military spouses

Story and photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Chlosta
7th CSC Public Affairs

GARMISCH, Germany — Seventh Civil Support Command Soldiers and their loved ones gathered for a chaplain-led relationship building exercise and retreat Aug. 3 to 5 in picturesque Southern Germany.

The 7th CSC’s “Strong Bonds” event was held at the Army’s Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, which is surrounded by the jagged mountain peaks of the Bavarian Alps jammed up against the Austrian border.

“Though they’re chaplain-led, it is not religiously focused,” said Army Maj. John Callihan, 43, a chaplain with the 361st Civil Affairs Brigade, 7th CSC, U.S. Army Reserve. “It is a relationship skills building training opportunity.”

The resiliency building program is one method that the Army uses to combat the wearisome toll more than a decade of continuous war has taken on military families’ lives and their marital relationships.

According to www.strongbonds.org, the core mission of the “Strong Bonds” program is to increase individual Soldier and family member readiness through relationship education and skills training.

A lot of military couples and families have been through multiple deployments, extended temporary duty missions and entire household moves every one to four years.

“Strong Bonds” is conducted in an offsite retreat format in order to maximize the training effect, according to the “Strong Bonds” website.

The retreat, or “getaway,” provides a fun, safe and secure environment in which to address the impact of relocations, deployments and military lifestyle stressors.

Callihan, a Danleyton, Ky., native, added, “The importance (of the couples’ workshops) is twofold. (It) strengthens our families (and) strengthens our relationships. (Also), it shows an appreciation from the unit to the families, just a little thing, that the Army can give back time together as a couple. We are offering child care to give them an opportunity for couple time.”

The weekend was an opportunity for couples to reassess priorities, regain trust and rebuild relationships The three 7th CSC chaplains who led the various training blocks also shared very personal, heart wrenching anecdotes. A few examples of the instructional blocks included “Controlling Your Happiness” and “Conflict Resolution Skills.”

Military spouse Annette Simpson, 31, from Leimen, Germany, and Army Staff Sgt. John Simpson, 36, originally from Birmingham, Ala., currently serving with the 196th Medical Support Unit, 7th CSC, USAR, also attended.

Simpson, who also works as the 196th MSU’s unit administrator for his civilian job in Mannheim, Germany, said, “We attended after going to one in our church early in our marriage. It has been very interesting — definitely worth it.”

The couple, who’ve been married for 10 years said the event was well organized and they really appreciated the free child care provided for their 20-month-old son.
According to 7th CSC chaplains, there are currently 10 Army chief of chaplain-approved curriculums that can be used for “Strong Bonds.” The one taught this past weekend was called “Active Relationships.”

There were 23 couples or 46 total Soldiers and spouses as well as their 31 children in attendance for a final total of 77 participants at the conference.

Each couple that attended was required to have at least one military spouse. The family members traveled to the conference on invitational travel orders, so they had very minimal expenses.

The 7th CSC chaplains have held three “Strong Bonds” events this fiscal year with a fourth and final program to be held from today to Sunday.

The 7th CSC chaplains plan for a more robust “Strong Bonds” program next year, including four couples seminars similar to this year’s and possibly a single Soldier event and maybe a couples only romantic weekend getaway retreat.

“You can always enhance your relationship,” said Army Master Sgt. Ricky Zanders, NCO in charge of G4, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 7th CSC, Active Guard and Reserve, USAR. “It is always a work in progress.”