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120th Inf Bde Families Build Strong Marriages at Retreat

120th Inf Bde Families Build Strong Marriages at Retreat

Source: Army News Service

Nineteen Soldiers and their family members attended a 120th Inf. Bde. Strong Bonds event in Austin over the weekend. The program’s goal is to build resilient families capable of withstanding the challenges of military life.

By Capt. Marvin J. Baker, 120th Inf. Bde., Div.

After 16 years of marriage, 16 years of military life, and four children, Mary Kate and Sgt. 1st Class Jason Hogan of the 120th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division West, said a recent Army Strong Bonds marriage retreat was the first time they had been alone for more than a day without their children since their honeymoon.

“Our kids are 16, 12, 9, and 6. One child is autistic, and we regularly have therapists and other caregivers in our home with our kids. A child with special needs requires more effort and attention,” Mary Kate said.

To further complicate their marriage, Jason’s career in the military requires him to move every three or four years and deploy overseas when the Army calls.

Despite these challenges, Jason and Mary Kate chose to renew their vows, and their commitment to each other, during an Army Strong Bonds marriage retreat in Austin.

Captain Steven Pace, the 120th Infantry Brigade chaplain, led the Strong Bonds program, which is designed to build resiliency and to strengthen Army Families.

“The goal of ‘Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage,’ is to teach couples what’s good about each other. We don’t always want to change the person, but instead, recognize what your spouse’s passions are and build them up. This program helps couples gain insight into their personalities and teaches them how to tap into their spouse’s personality,” Pace said.

Pace chose Mark Gungor’s program because it focuses on positive reinforcement and uses humor to help people listen and learn. This program differs from previous seminars because it is fair to men and does not try to place blame or fix problems, Pace said.

When the couples entered the conference room Friday afternoon they sat about an arm’s length away from their spouse while discussing their children and work with the other couples nearby.

Pace started the program by saying: “This is a marriage seminar for people who hate marriage seminars.” The chaplain said he wanted to make sure there was no death by PowerPoint slides, no man-bashing, and no emphasis on submissiveness for women. By the end of the second night, the couples cuddled closer together, nearly sitting on each other’s laps throughout the remainder of the program.

Dispelling conventional wisdom about a successful marriage was the aim of the program teaching a successful marriage is the result of work and skill, patience and acceptance. Marriage is not a mystical romance with someone who was destined to be with you and fulfill all your wants and needs.

Mary Kate said it is easy to get confused about who comes first, especially when you have a child with special needs. She said the program reminded her of the priorities in her Family.

“Before we got married and had children, the priority was our relationship with each other. So, the things that brought us together should still be there and keep us together. Without our strong relationship, there would be no Family,” she said.

Jason added, “The Army asks a lot from its Soldiers and Family members, so the Army gives a lot to the Soldiers and their Families.”

Pace said programs like Strong Bonds shows that the Army cares about the whole Family and recognizes the challenges of family separation and the stress of combat.

“We understand what makes a Soldier successful on the field is the spouse back at home. When you are secure in your relationship, you can go the extra week without a phone call. Looking forward to being home drives you through the chaos and depression. A strong relationship drives you into the arms of the person you want to spend your life with. Every Soldier wants to go home to peace and love,” Pace said.

For more information about the Army Strong Bonds program, visit the Strong Bonds website at or see the unit chaplain.