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Retreat Means Relationship Refresher for Army Africa Families

By Juliana McGraw, U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs

Enjoying an afternoon of snow and sun, laughing children and smiling adults scatter along the sledding slop, whizzing down the hill or watching others go by in Garmisch, Germany. On a recent weekend 22 U.S. Army Africa couples and their 42 children went to Edelweiss Lodge and Resort for a Strong Bonds marriage retreat. 

"This weekend put our lives on pause so we could breathe each other in again," said Amiia Coffey, whose husband recently returned from deployment. "It let us step away from our crazy lives to focus on each other and how different we are."

Military couples need the skills to effectively communicate through the normal challenges of marriage and specific military challenges, such as deployment, said Chaplain (Col.) Jonathan McGraw. This weekend was added after the previous November session filled within 24 hours and as an addition to the budget was funded by the command, not Strong Bonds, said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Clyde Scott. 

"Army leaders feel it is very important for Soldiers to have a strong marital relations and that's why they fund this program," said McGraw. 

Strong Bonds is a chaplain-led, fully-funded, Army-wide program training couples, families and single soldiers. As the instructor of the weekend seminar McGraw returned to familiar ground. He was part of the team stationed at Schofield Barracks in 1997 that pioneered the program, Building Strong and Ready Families, which functioned as the blueprint for today's Strong Bonds. 

This was the fourth seminar at which the USARAF chaplains used Mark Gungor's "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage" as the center of the training, said Scott. At first he was skeptical of what looked like just another DVD seminar, but soon realized that Gungor uses humor to open discussion on taboo subjects such as sex in an objective and non-offensive way. Participants enjoyed the use of humor to discuss the topics of communication, Scott said.

"The guy spoke from a neutral standpoint; he wasn't just a man up there, he was going after both men and women," said Sgt. Maj. Jon Matthews. "I think that's the funny part. When he's going on talking and you look at your spouse and think, 'That's you!'"

The next USARAF couples retreat will be April 15-17. Strong Bonds programs are offered through the unit's corresponding Chaplain's office, said McGraw.

"It's a worthwhile experience," said Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Davis. "You go to a retreat and it doesn't give you all the answers, but it helps you continue. It's training for how to get past the rough spots you can't foresee."