Guard program promotes “strong bonds” within married couples

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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The Kentucky National Guard’s Strong Bonds Program offers military couples the opportunity to spend quality time together, away from home, with instruction on bettering foundations and communication in their marriage. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

CORBIN, Ky. — Of the many challenges Service members face, a difficult marriage should not be one of them.  The chaplains of the Kentucky National Guard have been working to correct those issues since 2005 when Kentucky began participating in the Army’s Strong Bonds Program.  Since then more than 400 Kentucky couples have benefitted from the training workshops.

The Kentucky program continued its work in the quiet surroundings of Cumberland Falls State Park where 26 couples gathered April 26-28, 2013 for the Eight Habits to a Successful Marriage.

“Strong Bonds is a chaplain facilitated program that builds resilient Soldiers and family members by teaching relationship and communication skills,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Jerry Shacklett. “The program has been proven to help individuals reduce stress and build resiliency.  The Kentucky Chaplain Corps facilitates several different curriculums in a weekend workshop format for singles, married couples, and families.”

The instruction for the eight habits weekend provides a more in depth look at some skills to improve communication and priorities in a relationship. A follow-up to the preparation course, the eight habits include discussions on strengthening the foundation of a marriage and building with the proper skills and team work.

The weekend on the Cumberland River set the couples away from it all. Strong Bonds instructor Donna Bentley said that only helps with the idea of the weekend.

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Chaplain (Maj.) Bill Draper conducts a class during a Strong Bonds weekend at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Corbin, Ky., April 28, 2013. National Guard couples gathered at the park for three days of instruction on improving their marriages. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

“Some Strong Bond training areas are in a remote location with limited cell service, so another disconnect from everyday life
distractions,” she said. “The classes offer the couples to open up with feelings that ask the question of what they want their marriage to stand for, thus offering talking points. The most important is the opportunity for couples to set aside a weekend at the different stages of deployment to make a connection outside of their everyday life styles. ”

As with all Strong Bonds programs, the primary purpose is to allow couples the chance to focus on their marriage, whether it has issues or not. Some participants at the event have been married for 20-plus years, others only 11 months, like Kierre Brown and his wife, Samantha.  Brown wasn’t going to let the newlywed phase give his marriage a false sense of lasting security.

“My wife was under the impression that we attended it as just a weekend getaway. We don’t get those much,” said Brown. “But in actuality I pushed for us to go because I want our marriage to last more than my wife may realize.  So I felt that if there was anything out there that could help keep our marriage as strong as it is now I was going to do it.”

For Emilie and Cody Stagner, the getaway was a last chance to connect before deployment. Cody deployed with the 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment just a few days later. They both felt it was a great opportunity to build more strength, trust and communication in their marriage.

“As a military wife facing a deployment for the first time, I think Strong Bonds has helped us communicate more effectively, which is important during a time of deployment,” said Emilie. “This program is a great chance to get away and build each other up as a couple. The tools we learned this weekend will be handy to have not only during deployment but afterwards as well.”

The chaplains of the Kentucky Guard see the weekends and the courses as a win-win for all involved.

“Strong Bonds is a key program for commanders because it strengthens the readiness of the Soldier and therefore the readiness of the unit,” said Draper.  “It teaches communications skills that make for more resilient and long lasting relationships.”

For more information contact Chaplain (Maj.) Jerry Shacklett at 502-607-1232 or the state chaplain office  at 502-607-1729, or you can email him at jerry.l.shacklett2.mil@mail.mil.

For more information on the Army Strong Bonds Program, click here.

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