Story by Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris
99th Regional Support Command
BOSTON – More than a dozen military couples attended the Strong Bonds event hosted by the Army Reserve’s 99th Regional Support Command May 3 to 4 at the Omni-Parker Hotel here.
The chaplain-led Strong Bonds program is designed to help soldiers and their families build relationship resiliency and readiness through education and skills training that enhance communication and offer constructive ways to handle stress.
“It’s a chance to really look at marriage with some time away from the normal hustle and bustle of married life, and to really spend time with each other as a couple – learning new things, getting with other couples and learning from them, and really improving the way we talk to each other, the way we solve problems and the way we think about each other,” explained Chap. (Col.) Mark Sachs, 99th RSC command chaplain.
Strong Bonds started in 1997 with a program for couples called Building Strong and Ready Families. Since that time, hundreds of thousands of Soldiers and their family members have attended Strong Bonds events throughout the nation.
“Communication is one of the biggest things that will break down a relationship if it’s not done successfully, so what we do at Strong Bonds is talk through issues, and we talk through techniques in communication to help somebody invest in a relationship rather than just look to take something out of it,” said Staff Sgt. Frank Vaughn, non-commissioned officer in charge of the 99th RSC Strong Bonds program.
For Army Reserve soldiers and families, the Strong Bonds program is important to help mitigate the effects of repeated deployments in a post-911 environment. The Army is changing the way it meets soldiers’ and families’ needs in this era of persistent conflict by taking a holistic approach to physical, emotional and spiritual health, and building family resiliency is part of a strategic approach to cope with the high operational demands placed on today's Army Reserve soldiers.
“Our experience before was excellent, and every little segment, whether it’s an hour or fifteen minutes, is a stepping-off point for remembering something really positive about yourselves,” explained Col. Malcolm “Tim” Burr, Information Analysis Center Response Team director for the Army Reserve Sustainment Command.
“And you have to be friends; you have to really like each other,” added Julianne Burr, Tim’s wife of 17 years. “One thing I like about Strong Bonds is it reminds us why we like each other so much.”
The stress of frequent and repeated deployments may lead to issues such as divorce and domestic violence, but research shows that training in communication, intimacy and conflict management – the types of training offered through Strong Bonds - increases marriage satisfaction and reduces rates of family violence.
“A lot of people go overseas and they have worries about their families, and we try to help them reconnect with their spouse and try to help them reconnect with their families when they come back home from deployments,” Vaughn explained. “It’s important to me as a chaplain assistant because I’ve noticed through my own deployment and through my experience in working with this program that Strong Bonds is a force multiplier.”
“Our last Strong Bonds was right after Tim returned from deployment, and I think that when you’re gone for a year, a lot of things are on hold emotionally,” said Julianne. “I know that when we came together after his deployment and we went to Strong Bonds, you almost don’t want to go to Strong Bonds because you just want to privately bond, but then you realize that there are a lot of layers you’ve got to peel back, you’ve got to talk about, and it’s very helpful.”
Hosting the Strong Bonds events in locations such as Boston’s Omni-Parker Hotel offers soldiers and families a chance to get away from the rigors of everyday life while taking in the local history and culture.