News: Couples retreat builds strong bonds
Story by Sgt. Sarah Enos
CENTRALIA, Wash. - Laughing your way to a better marriage is not a typical solution to strengthen relationships, but for couples during a weekend retreat, the humorous message allowed folks to tackle serious discussions by keeping topics light-hearted.
Held at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, Wash., Aug. 24-26, 60 Soldiers assigned to I Corps, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and their Family attended a strong bonds retreat to strengthen connections strained from deployment, relocations and military lifestyle stressors in a fun, safe and secure environment.
Situated off the installation to minimize work interruptions, the family friendly location was a major draw in attendance for Spc. Spencer McCoy, satellite communication systems operator-maintainer, C Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, and Spc. Christopher Peltier, military intelligence systems maintainer/integrator, B Company, HHB.
McCoy, a native of Graham, Wash. has been married to his wife, Sarah, for 12 years and has three children, Amelia, 9, Ava, 6 and Porter, 5. He spoke about the benefits of taking opportunities to bond with Family.
“I couldn’t afford to take the Family to Great Wolf Lodge,” McCoy said. “I think it’s important to do stuff together as a Family.”
Peltier, a native of Rock Island, Ill., also spoke about bonding with his wife of almost three years, Jennifer, gaining a step-daughter, Kacie Visconti, 10, a step-son, Jayson Visconti, and a newborn, Samantha, now 20-months-old.
“We decided to go to the retreat to develop closer bonds,” Peltier said. “When looking back at what we have accomplished at this point in our lives, I want to see the memories we made here.”
Lodging, childcare, meals and passes to the lodges’ indoor waterpark were provided for the retreat attendees as well as relationship training for the adults on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“When I first saw the itinerary I thought it was rigid, but it turned out to be a lot better than I expected,” McCoy said. “It was a good mix of instruction and time with Family.”
Instruction consisted of a DVD series created by Mark Gungor called, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, offering insight and practical solutions to common relationship struggles.
Gungor presented topics such as how men and women are wired differently in the brain, sex and the power of forgiveness. During his examples he praised individuality within a couple, pointing out that being different from one another is okay.
“I get constant feedback that people really identify with what he’s talking about,” said Capt. Terry Cobban, chaplain, HHB.
Due to I Corps size and number of deployments, the HHB offers approximately seven to nine retreats per fiscal year for single and married Soldiers assigned or attached to the unit.
“The couples retreat is meant to strengthen bonds and become more resilient during separations,” said Cobban, a native of Soldotna, Ala. “And the singles retreat focuses on starting Soldiers out on the right foot by teaching them to make wise decisions before marriage.”
Over 90 percent of the Soldiers in attendance of the retreat recently returned from a deployment.
Peltier spoke of his relationship with his wife while separated during basic training, advanced individual training and a tour to Korea.
“I left her home all by herself during our honeymoon stage with our girls,” Peltier said. “The separation was a strain on our marriage, partly because I could not be there for my wife when she needed me.”
Despite the many benefits to soldiers during strong bonds, Peltier described one concern of his to not attend the retreat despite the benefits he might receive.
“I was apprehensive with putting my daughters in childcare,” Peltier said. “My children liked it and wanted to go back, so it helped me to focus on the training knowing they were being cared for.”
The strong bonds program was introduced by the Army in 1997 and supports retreats like this one, to increase individual Soldier and Family member readiness through relationship education and skills training.
“The family understands and becomes more supportive of their soldier,” Cobban said. “The soldier will likely make a better contribution to the Army.”
When the three-day retreat was over, families left the entertainment lodge with a copy of the DVDs and a new outlook towards relationships.
“We understand each other better now after watching the videos,” Peltier, said. “I would recommend the strong bonds retreat to others, especially if the information from the videos are used.”