Strong Bonds program serves single Soldiers, too

By Zachary Mott | 88th Readiness Division | July 5, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. — Stigma, myth and mystique cloud the unknown. The single Soldier aspect of the Strong Bonds program is enmeshed in that cloud.

For the 11 Soldiers who attended the 88th Readiness Division-sponsored Strong Bonds event in Portland, Oregon, June 22 to 24, they learned first-hand what the value in attending is.

“This is a great opportunity for self-evaluation. There are not a lot of programs where you get paid and you get opportunities to explore a city while at the same time, in a conference/participation model, learning more about other Soldiers and yourself,” said Duro Akinmoladun, one of two instructors for the training.

Strong Bonds emphasizes creating a safe space for attendees to share, be open and grow. Because of this, they do not use rank or military affiliation. Instead, instructors and attendees go by first, or preferred, names. 

Soldiers are guided through an eight-step PREP curriculum over the course of three days that stresses communication skills and interpersonal relationships. This focus allows Soldiers to concentrate on their role in a relationship – whether it is a professional or personal relationship.

“It’s valuable because I can take that back and hone in on my own skills and try to compromise and understand and take in other people’s viewpoints,” said Tamika McKenzie, an attendee for the Portland event.

One of the stigmas percolating about Strong Bonds is that it is only for married people or people who want to get married. Eric Kramer, the other instructor for the singles Strong Bonds training, is quick to dispel that stigma.

“It actually helps in a leadership position with your other Soldiers,” he said. “How do you effectively communicate and counsel a fellow Soldier who you may be working with or who may be working under you and how to have a conversation with them? You actually have the communication skills and that’s a great thing.”

Another myth that surrounds single Strong Bonds events is that you only need to attend if you want to be “fixed,” or that something is broken in you. Akinmoladun counters that by focusing on the skills being taught and the benefit they offer to every relationship, be in personal, professional or familial.

“The curriculum that we have is geared toward self-discovery, self-assessment, being okay with topics such as control, learning how to manage anger and stress,” he said.

The mystique of Strong Bonds is that it’s sponsored by the Chaplain’s Office so it must be a faith-based program. This, Kramer said, is simply not the case. Chaplains, he said, are a resource outside of the chain of command that are trained and tasked with providing counsel when needed. This puts them in an ideal position to assist and guide the Strong Bonds program.

“This (program) is based in science,” he said. “But the chaplains are well-trained and they are extremely effective communicators. They are people that talk to others about relationships all the time. Who better to put it forth than those that do it for a living?”

One other aspect of Strong Bonds that is often misunderstood is the funding for the program. Soldiers who attend are funded through the organization sponsoring the event, not their parent unit. For events in the 88th RD region, that funding is provided annually through a specific Strong Bonds budget and attendance is coordinated based on specific guidelines. 

There are Strong Bonds events for singles, married couples and families. To learn more about the Strong Bonds program, email usarmy.usarc.88-rsc.mbx.strong-bonds@mail.mil 

“If you’re single, you’re married or if you have kids, there’s an event for you and the Army wants to send you there because this is going to be a combat-multiplier,” Kramer said. “This builds resilience. This builds understanding. This means that you’re going to be a better Soldier, a better family member, a better friend and all that makes the Army a better place.”