Chapel program seeks to strengthen familial bonds

Staff Sgt. Timothy Wallace, right, and his spouse Corinna Wallace assemble a puzzle during a problem-solving exercise at the Baltimore Sheraton Hotel during the APG Strong Bonds retreat March 17-19. Garrison Chaplain Lt. Col. Arleigh vonSeggern hosted the resiliency-focused event for eight APG families. | U.S. Army Photo by Yvonne Johnson, APG News

TOWSON – Eight Aberdeen Proving Ground couples took advantage of the chapel program that seeks to strengthen the familial ties that bind during a Strong Bonds retreat weekend, held March 17-19, at the Baltimore Sheraton Hotel in Towson, Maryland.

Hosted by Garrison Chaplain Lt. Col. Arleigh vonSeggern, the weekend consisted of a series of relationship training sessions using interactive challenges that reinforced the merits of teamwork, stress relief, group problem-solving, humor and other aids to family wellness. With training aids like puzzles and videos that featured humorous anecdotes, vonSeggern said the overall goal was to demonstrate how successful families take things in stride and work together to solve problems.

“A functioning home needs rules or there is dysfunction,” he said.

Lessons included “Communication Danger Signs,” “Honey Let’s ‘Talk,” “Events, Issues and Hidden Issues,” “Problem Solving,” “You, Me, and Us,” and a retirement plan briefing.

Eight couples and two children participated in the training weekend.

APG Garrison Chaplain Lt. Col. Arleigh vonSeggern leads an interactive floor exercise with couples and families during the Strong Bonds couples relationship training retreat at the Baltimore Sheraton Hotel in Towson, Maryland March 18. | U.S. Army Photo by Yvonne Johnson, APG News

Spc. Paul Abucher, with Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic, said he and his spouse, Pascale Louissaint, have been married five years. He said he hadn’t heard of Strong Bonds but was intrigued, though he already considered their marriage strong.

“The sessions helped me to have a better understanding of what marriage is about and how to work things out,” he said. “People might think Strong Bonds is for couples who are struggling with their marriages or else for those who are heading towards divorce. This is a wrong conception. I think the goal of the program goes beyond that. It is a program that helps people strengthen and enhance their marriages.”

Abucher added that he learned a lot about himself, his spouse and relationships in general.

“I also learned that it does not take a lot to have a healthy relationship,” he said. “Sometimes it might take just a smile [or] just a hug. Strong Bonds is a program everybody should try to attend [at least] once.”

Spc. John L. Sutton Jr. of the 20th CBRNE Command said the session was the second for him and his spouse, Brittny Sutton, who have been married just over a year.

He called it a “great mini-vacation to get away from the stresses of the Army.”

“The Strong Bonds program is a great tool for newlyweds and for couples who have been together for many years,” he said. “Chaplain vonSeggern presents many topics critical to keeping a relationship strong and healthy. The foundation of the program to me is “communication.” Everything starts with communication. Find the love language your spouse or significant other speaks and speak in that language as well. A happy wife [means] a happy life.”

Spc. Johns Sutton Jr. of the 20th CBRNE Command, right, and his spouse Brittny Sutton sort the pieces of a puzzle during the APG Chapel-sponsored Strong Bonds relationship training at the Baltimore Sheraton Hotel in Towson, Maryland March 18. | U.S. Army Photo by Yvonne Johnson, APG News

A technology advisor and tactical operations NCO with the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, Staff Sgt. Timothy J. Wallace attended the sessions with his spouse Corinna.

He called Strong Bonds “invaluable” and said they attend every session they can.

“Each time, we pick up or learn something new,” he said. “Like all things you get out of it what you put into it or what you are willing to accept. You get a better sense of what your spouse thinks of the relationship and of you. We have been married almost 10 years and we still learn about each other.”

He added that with two young children Strong Bonds gives them a “date night” where they can “relive” their time before they had children. They also enjoy the pleasant venues where the retreats are held, he said.

“I truly believe our many sessions in Strong Bonds over the years has kept us fresh, grounded and together,” Wallace said. “I personally, believe that Strong Bonds is the best program in the Army for married Soldiers.”

“We apply for the funding to conduct each event,” vonSeggern said, noting that while the retreats usually consist of couples he opened this session to children to make it a true family affair.

“Strong Bonds is a preventive tool,” he added. “If families stay together as functioning units, that’s how success is measured.”

Coincidentally, a group from the Delaware Air National Guard also conducted a Strong Bonds retreat that weekend. Chaplain Maj. Susannah Tulloch led the New Castle group. She said though she usually deals with singles, the program also focuses on couples and families and that sessions are geared toward increasing resiliency. An important part of each session, she said, is allowing participants time to themselves at the end of each day.

“We hope they take the time to absorb everything and learn from it,” she said.

About Strong Bonds

Strong Bonds is a unit-based, chaplain-led program which assists commanders in building individual resiliency by strengthening the Army Family. The core mission of the Strong Bonds program is to increase individual Soldier and Family member readiness through relationship education and skills training.

Strong Bonds is conducted in an offsite retreat format to maximize the training effect. The retreat or “get away” provides a fun, safe, and secure environment in which to address the impact of relocations, deployments, and military lifestyle stressors.

For more information about future Strong Bonds retreats, contact the post chapel at 410-278-4333 or visit the Strong Bonds website at http://www.strongbonds.org/skins/strongbonds/home.aspx

By Yvonne Johnson, APG News

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