81st Readiness Division couples to test relationship strengthening online tools

By Sgt. 1st Class Jessica Espinosa | 81st Readiness Division | April 17, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. —

The 81st Readiness Division is helping families through piloting an online Strong Bonds platform to support couples who may be staying home due to the novel coronavirus.

The online communication and relationship education course is fully narrated and video-based and steeped in research the Army Reserve has been using for nearly 20 years within the Strong Bonds program.

Between the Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) and Mission Command Support Group (MCSG), 250 Soldiers and their spouses will be the first-ever to move to a completely online-based curriculum to improve their relationship through the guidance of the 81st RD Chaplain’s section in concert with the University of Denver online program.

The course came right on time, as the Chaplain’s section planned to change the program from a three-day in-person course to more of a blended course to save funds. Now, instead of meeting at all, the course has shifted to be fully online, supporting the stay-home and social distancing mandates.

Online course links will roll out to couples this month – about 50 within the HHC and 200 within the MCSG – with a target toward couples in the E5/O3 and below range.

Though the seven-hour program is self-paced, couples will be given a deadline to complete the course so the data can be collected for future use across the Readiness Division and potentially across the Army Reserve. “Once we get the numbers back, then we will see how effective it is and what the need for it may be,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Mark D. Williams, training and resource manager for the 81st RD.

Williams hopes to have the data from this beta test by the end of May so the RD can start to push further courses to couples across the functional commands in the southeast footprint.

Spearheading this virtual training is vital, according to Chaplain (Maj.) Todd Golden, the family life chaplain who worked with Williams to create a splash page on the training website.

According to Golden, commanders will be able to use the course to either support virtual battle assembly training times or to support Soldiers who may have become under-employed or unemployed due to measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“Having this training available at home, especially when there often there isn’t time for this type of training during crazy busy battle assembly weekends, is essential,” Golden said. “Pushing this down to the organic, unit level will be helpful.”

HHC Commander Maj. Lukas Toth, agreed and said he is prepared to push out the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) material this month.

“This is an outstanding opportunity to leverage technology to improve Soldier and Family readiness, especially during this time of social distancing,” Toth said “Being a new program, I’m excited to see how many Soldiers embrace this opportunity for the betterment of themselves and their families.”

Though geared toward couples, it may also help the entire family, according to Williams. This is especially key, as April is Month of the Military Child. Families can integrate techniques they learn with their children to stay mentally and emotionally fit. “My children all know the speaker/listener techniques,” Williams said.

The University of Denver e-PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program) course is a marriage and relationship education program that teaches couples how to communicate effectively, work as a team to solve problems, manage conflicts without damaging closeness, and preserve and enhance commitment and friendship. The e-PREP program is working specifically with their military audience to enhance their online capabilities without losing the impact of the training, according to their website.

For those interested in the training, contact your HHC or MCSG representatives.

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