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NEWS | May 10, 2024

Relationship retreat offers tools to create lasting connections

By Amy Phillips Fort Hunter Liggett Public Affairs Office

Army couples from Fort Hunter Liggett (FHL) and Parks Reserve Forces Training Area (PRFTA) spent a day and half in April 2024 learning how to better understand emotions and relational needs, control conflict and shape positive and loving bonds at the Great Wolf Lodge, Manteca, California. The ‘Creating Connections’ event is part of the Army Chief of Chaplain’s Office Building Strong and Ready Teams (BSRT) program - formerly known as Strong Bonds - and one of many programs offered by the FHL/PRFTA Religious Support Office (RSO) to strengthen the community.

“Its whole focus is to do just what it says – to help build strong and ready teams – it covers resiliency at all levels of relationships from individual, team, couples, and family,” said FHL Senior Garrison Chaplain (Maj.) Todd Golden. Chaplains from both garrisons covered many topics such as the attachment theory, the benefits of connection, communications, revisiting a rocky moment and forgiving injuries.

More than 20 couples participated in exercises designed to get them to assess their relationships, recognizing triggers and negative patterns, discuss and come up with ways to approach tough topics, heal wounds, and most importantly, keep their love alive.

One FHL participant said the workshop helped her “to gain tools and knowledge” of herself and of her partner. “One of the biggest tools is communications and the delivery [of the message] and being vulnerable…if you change yourself and reveal yourself…ultimately it can make you a better person overall.” She added that, “By changing, you can change the dynamics of any environment, to include your kids and their growth and your partnerships…that connection is everything and I love it.”

Maj. Daniel Finlayson with the 91st Training Division at PRFTA said, “I was blown away on how well-organized the training was, and how it was based on Dr. Sue Johnson’s ‘Hold me tight’ book.” He adds, “There was a lot of really good content by doctors and the chaplains created a safe environment where we could deep dive into exercises.” He said their discussions got “hot” at times but by following the training guidelines they “found an exit” and ended on a positive note. “You never know where the Army sends you and it can be tough on the family,” said Finlayson. “Therefore, having a focus on building strong and ready families and teams is a fantastic initiative by the Army.”

“I haven’t been to a relationship training before, so I didn’t know what to expect,” said Nesa Finlayson. ”I really appreciated that it was an overnight event because I felt we were able to fully engage, and it wasn’t rushed.” She adds that she was surprised by the content, the format, and the exercises but “It was above and beyond my expectations.” Her biggest take way was communicating better with each other. “Your spouse is not a mind reader,” said Mrs. Finlayson.

Another participant from PRFTA said the workshop “helped me communicate with my wife and put a little more of myself out there instead of me just bottling things in.”

Participants were allowed to bring their children as part of the building connections theme and Great Wolf Lodge was a hit with them. “It was a fun and energetic experience. You’ll never be bored because there is lots to do,” said 14-year-old Logan Butler. His father is assigned to the 80th Training Command at FHL and his mother is an Army Civilian at FHL.

BSRT training is tailored for variety of audiences such as a unit, leadership, single Soldiers, families, and more; and be from 2-4 hours to multi-day workshops.

“Large group events such as ‘Creating Connections’ are not common anymore but because our garrison is very remote we were granted approval, so we are both blessed and grateful,” said Golden. “The small-group BSRT training at Fort Hunter Liggett are full every time we host a workshop and it’s been listed as one of Fort Hunter Liggett’s Best Practices. We’re very grateful for that kind of involvement and the level of trust from the community.”

He adds that BSRT is the program, but the curriculum may vary based on the participants’ needs. “It’s vision driven and the vision behind it is to have healthy, resilient Soldiers, families, teams, and units,” said Golden. “And families are part of the Army team.”

These annual workshops are command directed, chaplain led, community partnered efforts that strengthen spiritual readiness for all Soldiers and their families. For more information, visit