News: Comm-check: Honey, are you there? Guard Bureau backs building better bonds
Story by Sgt. Lauren Twigg
SEDONA, Ariz. - A couple walks in the room, ready for the start of a two-day couple’s retreat, smiling and holding hands. Although, they’ve been married for more than 15 years, they are still happy with one another and each could not have asked for a better friend and life partner.
Another couple walks in, having been married nearly about the same amount of time as the first couple. They are not smiling – nor hardly even touching. The tension could be cut with a knife, and they are both wondering to themselves if it’s ever going to work out.
Two completely different couples in the same room for the same thing –a perfect situation at the Strong Bonds couples’ retreat, a program hosted by the Arizona Army National Guard. Soldiers and their spouses participated in the program at the Poco Diablo Resort here, July 29-31.
“What makes this program so unique is it focuses on military couples and the particular issues they have to deal with – unlike other married couples out there,” said Col. Elmon Krupnik, the senior Army chaplain of the Arizona National Guard. “Soldiers and their spouses are given the tools they need in order to understand each other and the stresses they go through when the soldier is deployed.”
The idea may seem simple enough, but more and more couples every day that have problems do not realize this could be the root cause of their issues.
“It's the tools that I think the Soldiers need," said Yolanda Lovato, an administrative assistant with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs Human Resources, and wife of Sgt. 1st Class Steve Lovato, the readiness non-commissioned officer with the 2-285th Aviation Battalion. "Especially for military couples, it lets them know they are not alone."
For an entire weekend, military couples can escape their hectic schedules and be treated to a getaway, all-expenses paid from the National Guard Bureau through Family Programs, where despite sitting through what could be perceived as just a class, turns out to be something worthwhile for all couples.
“That’s one of the best parts,” said Capt. John Harrison, the logistics officer for the 2-285th Aviation Battalion, who attended the retreat with wife Ashley. “Going to a resort and getting everything paid for, you don’t have to worry about anything, just taking that time to focus on each other – it’s great!”
Upon arrival, couples check in and get settled in their rooms at the resort and attend an orientation in the evening. The couples are greeted by Krupnik and wife, Lynn, who conducts the class – in a casual sense, which in turn helps put the couples at ease.
“What is interesting about this to me is to notice that the first night we are here, everyone is quiet, kind of keeps to themselves; but by Sunday, everyone is talking, laughing, and really having a good time,” Lovato said, who has attended these retreats with her husband in the past.
Throughout the weekend, one-on-one and group activities with brainstorming, teamwork and above all, communication, are implemented. However, what is not provided is a schedule.
“There is no agenda,” Krupnik explained, as the orientation began. “This will prevent those who like to look at the clock from doing so, and you can just relax and focus on each other instead.”
Unlike one-on-one counseling or group therapy, this training program helps couples with a variety of marital situations in how to resolve issues and keep the marriage stable.
"What makes Strong Bonds so unique is it ties in the military perspective but also points out hidden issues and some things couples may not have ever thought of in terms of how to resolve a problem," Krupnik said. "Learning about the speaker-listener technique, the different love styles and forgiveness, helps couples realize their own faults and renew the relationship."
Since 9/11, more than 9,300 Arizona Guardsmen have been deployed in support of overseas contingency operations. To date, 48.7 percent of Arizona Guardsmen are married, according to the Arizona National Guard personnel report.
With increasing demands being placed on Guardsmen and their families, programs such as Strong Bonds have been identified to ensure soldier resiliency for themselves and their families.
The not-so-typical class offers ways to communicate and help strengthen ties between each other – especially when it comes to dealing with separation due to deployments and military training. Steve Lovato has been deployed once to Afghanistan and is looking at another potential deployment in 2013.
“Having been prior service myself, Steve and I have learned that you have a choice in how you are going to treat one another – especially after a deployment,” Lovato said. “We attend these retreats to remind ourselves that we change with each deployment, and all that we can do is embrace that change and get through those difficult times together.”
The last program of this fiscal year is being held Sept. 16-18. If September is too soon, be on the look-out for the first program to be hosted at the start of the new fiscal year sometime in November. Space is limited and is on first come, first serve basis.
To sign up for the program:
-Watch for announcements on the intranet
-Arizona National Guard Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/AZNationalGuard
-Arizona National Guard Family Programs Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/AZFamilyPrograms
-As well as announcements from unit leadership
For more information about the program, go to www.strongbonds.org