On Feb. 25, Soldiers and Family Members of 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment and 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, gathered at Fort Stewart's Main Post Chapel for the first part of the three-day Strong Bonds Marriage Retreat, sponsored by the Army Chaplains Corps.
Once the participants signed-in and dropped their children off at the on-site childcare location, the day of activities began. After enjoying light breakfast fare, 10 couples were encouraged to volunteer for an icebreaker session. Nervous husbands and wives gradually walked to the front of the room for what turned out to be the kissing game. Wives heavily applied the supplied lipstick given to them by Chap. (Capt.) Robert Olson, 3rd BSB, and were instructed to then cover their husband's face in kisses, which brought much laughter and helped to loosen up those in attendance.
Second Lieutenant Chinenye Ferguson, 3rd BSB, who has been married to her husband Reginald for six years, said the icebreaker was one facet of the retreat she enjoyed the most.
"I had some weird visions about what it was going to be like being held at the chapel, you know starting out at the chapel," 2nd Lt. Ferguson said. "I thought it would be like a confession and holding hands kind of thing and everybody telling their problems."
One of the many workshops planned throughout the three-day retreat began after the icebreaker. Videos produced by Mark Gungor, author of the book "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage," among other pamphlets and training tools, were used as a part of the curriculum throughout the retreat. Gungor's seminars were used to help spouses get a better understanding of self and spouse during the retreat, Chap. Olson explained.
"They (retreats) are both informative and they also offer an opportunity for couples to get away and just enjoy each other," Chap. Olson said. "It's a win-win because it doesn't come out of anyone's (brigade, unit) training budget."
In addition to the initial workshops, couples were then released to make their way down to the Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Spa in Ponte Verde, Fla., for the remaining days of the retreat.
Upon arriving, Families and couples converged into the Chaplain Corps sponsored villas located on the property to prepare for the next set of workshops later that evening. With childcare on site, parents were able to sit back and bask in the company of one another during the sessions, while learning skills about how to positively communicate with one another.
Meals were provided throughout the retreat, leaving Soldiers and their spouses the opportunity to sit back, relax and reconnect.
Master Sergeant Manuel Paulino, 3/69 Armor, a native of Portugal, along with his wife Cresilda and 21-month-old daughter Natalie, said they came to the retreat to spend quality time together after his year-long deployment to Iraq.
"Even though our relationship is good, there is always room to make it better," he said. "After a year of being gone, I realized that she is doing a lot with the baby, and I just need to do my fair share."
Above all, most in attendance seemed to enjoy the retreat and many had plans to sign up for yet another stress-free, fun-filled weekend away from post in the near future.
The unit-based, chaplain-led program has been in existence since 1997. Since then, the program has held more than 1,300 training events and more than 30,000 couples have been trained.