April 21, 2011

Virginia Guard brings couples together in Charlottesville

By Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

CHARLOTTESVILE, Va. — The Virginia National Guard’s Chaplain Office welcomed more than 21 Soldiers and their spouses to the Doubletree Hotel in Charlottesville to attend the Strong Bonds Marriage retreat held there April 15-17 to focus on improving their relationships through laughter.

 

Soldiers and their spouses listen to the chaplain speak during a Strong Bonds Marriage retreat at the Double tree hotel on Charlottesville April 16. The theme of the weekend was "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage," and the Soldiers and their spouses were shown videos of the same name by Mark Gungor, a world-renowned author and speaker on marriage and family issues. In the videos, Gungor uses a comedic approach to tackling common issues and teach principles to strengthen marriages. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The theme of the weekend was “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage,” and the Soldiers and their spouses were shown videos of the same name by Mark Gungor, a world-renowned author and speaker on marriage and family issues. In the videos, Gungor uses a comedic approach to tackling common issues and teach principles to strengthen marriages.

“I love to inspire people’s lives with truth and humor. There are a lot of performers that make people laugh, and there are a lot of speakers who give solid principles for living. I want to do both,” Gungor  says on his website. “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage is about helping couples get it right, get along, have fun, and achieve a successful marriage.”

Each day after the videos, the couples were encouraged to go on a date in Charlottesville, to enjoy each other’s company, and to connect without the day-to-day distractions that can sometimes get in the way of couples focusing solely on each other, such as work, kids, or other disruptors. The chaplain’s office urged the couples to take advantage of their time in Charlottesville and its proximity to many local wineries, antique shops and plantations of several of the nation’s founding fathers to visit.

“We have a 20 month old, so just being able to get away for the weekend is a big deal for starters,” said Leslie O’Neal, wife of Maj. William O’Neal, information operations officer of the Staunton-based 116th Brigade Combat Team. “Letting us reconnect was great, and helping us focus on each other and get away from the real-world for the weekend was really nice.”

The program has been extremely effective in helping Soldiers and their spouses connect, especially in the wake of ten years at war, according to Sgt. Estelle Christainsen, a chaplain’s assistant and manager of the program for Virginia.

“With our Soldiers and their families enduring prolonged separations, it is extremely important for them to have a chance to refresh their relationships even if it is for a brief time on a retreat weekend,” said Christiansen. “Not only are they a normal couple going through the same trials and tribulations as other married couples, but they are an Army Couple and can deal with the additional trials that Army life throws their way, namely long deployments.

 

Soldiers and their wives attending the Virginia Army National Guard's Strong Bonds Marriage retreat in Charlottesville pull balloons from a bag for a raffle April 16. One lucky winner was given an upgrade to a spa suite at the hotel for the duration of their stay. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“They need to know that the Army does care about their relationship and this retreat tells them that, very clearly.”

The Virginia Guard has conducted more than 32 marriage retreats to date, seven singles retreats and plans to conduct a family-based seminar sometime next year. It will hold three more marriage retreats this year. Two will be held in Roanoke in May and June, and one in Virginia Beach in July.

“As long as we are requiring families to sacrifice a normal life for the needs of their country, we need to continue this program to show them our gratitude for that sacrifice,” Christainsen said.

Strong Bonds originated in 1997 with a program for couples, and was referred to as Building Strong and Ready Families. Since then, over 1,300 training events have been held and over 30,000 couples have been trained. With satisfaction rate high among attendees (93 percent) and increasing support from commanders, the Army recognized the success of the program and approval was given for expansion of the program throughout the Army and Reserves as well as for expansion of the program offerings to include single Soldiers and families.

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