Chapel team hosts Strong Bonds event, helps build resiliency

  • Published
  • By 1st. Lt. Amelia Leonard
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

The Hanscom Chapel team organized and facilitated its first-ever Strong Bonds marriage retreat for active duty members and their spouses in Providence, Rhode Island July 1-3.

Strong Bonds is a unit-based, chaplain-led program to assist commanders in building individual resiliency by strengthening relationships for military members and their families. Its mission is to increase individual and family readiness through relationship education and skills training, according to the Army Strong Bonds website. It is a, “readiness and people maintenance program beneficial in reducing divorce, increasing marriage and family harmony, building resiliency and relational skills and minimalizing the possibility of suicides,” according to the Air National Guard website.

The Army introduced Building Strong and Ready Families in 1997 to 90 active-duty couples, and as the program evolved and grew, the name changed to Strong Bonds. Its success led to increased funding and training not only for active duty Soldiers, but Army National Guard and Air National Guard members as well.

After more than three decades in the Army and National Guard, the Strong Bonds program has been rolled out to the active-duty Air Force.

The Hanscom Chapel team began preparations for the Strong Bonds retreat in early June.

“The very fact that we were able to organize this event, and I was able to lead is incredible,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Kimberly Hall, event facilitator and installation chaplain. “Ultimately when you do Strong Bonds events, you build tighter relationships with couples, and members go back into their workplace environment and continue to build their own resiliency.”

Several installation agencies worked together to organize the event.

“It was actually really, really cool because every agency was determined to make it happen,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Middleton, non-commissioned officer in charge of religious affairs at the 66th Air Base Group. “The hardest part was that the base has never done a Strong Bonds event before. Nobody really knew how, so it was a big learning curve for everyone involved.”

Middleton not only planned the event, but he and his spouse were active participants.

It was great to see and understand how important it is to have a strong marriage in order to stay in the military, he said.

“Being a couple in the military is super stressful and extremely demanding,” Middleton said. “A lot of times relationships get put on the back burner, and they need to be one of the more important aspects of your life. Being able to attend something like this, where the only thing that you're focused on is your relationship is needed. It helps reset everything.”

The retreat was conducted offsite in order to provide a fun, safe, and intimate environment to address the impact of relocations, deployments and military-specific lifestyle stressors, according to organizers.

During the Hanscom event, Hall led the couples through group activities and discussions revolving around the book, The Five Love Languages—Military Edition written by Gary Chapman.

“Marriage is work, even if your marriage is healthy,” said Hall. “I like to give the analogy of a car -- you can't drive your car on an empty tank because eventually it's going to die, and so do healthy marriages.”

Marital problems affect more than just the individuals in the relationship, which is why events like Strong Bonds are important to the entire military community.

“If you are upset and miserable and you go into your job that way, it's going to trickle down into your work center,” Hall said. “However, if you have healthy marriages and families, that builds strong healthy vital military communities. Strong Bonds is an incredible asset -- a force multiplier.”

Hall coached participants on ways and avenues to pour life back into their marriages using the five love languages. It’s easy to become complacent at home and do the same routine over and over again, she said.

“Communication is not always the best between couples, but in forums like this, you have an opportunity to be open, to learn, to grow, and to listen to other couples and know that you’re not alone in many aspects of your marriage,” Hall said.

The participants are planning to get back together in approximately 30 days to touch base and see how things are going, according to Hall. The 66 ABG chapel will facilitate the reunion and intends on doing more events in the future.

“I want our leaders to lead, and I am inspired by the Chapel for taking initiative and being committed to their mastery of servant leadership,” said Col. Taona Enriquez, commander of the 66 ABG. “There is more to life than our vocation and military service. Events like the Strong Bonds solidify the relationships of our Airmen, which is our legacy. Our legacies are defined by the lives we impact through our relationships; starting with those at home.”