Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Helping Deployed Soldiers Maintain Bonds

Chaplain (Capt.) Bruce Duty, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, reads a love poem to his wife back home in Fort Benning, Ga., during an internet communications event held at Contingency Operating Site Kalsu, Iraq, Feb. 14. The 3rd HBCT has held several events and relationship-building classes to help its deployed Soldiers and their spouses strengthen their marriages.
Story by Spc. Ben Hutto

COS KALSU, Iraq -- The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division is helping married Soldiers improve their relationships with their spouses during their current mission in Iraq.

The 3rd HBCT mental health assessment, given three months into the brigade's current deployment, determined that marital stress was a main concern of the brigade's Soldiers.

"Strong Bonds marriage retreats, Family Life [program], and counselors are all examples of the support systems available to our married Soldiers to help them and their spouses during and after our deployment," said Col. Pete Jones, the commander of the 3rd HBCT. "We are near the mid-point of this deployment and our marriage retreats were designed to introduce techniques that maintain and build relationships."

In addition to counseling and retreats, the 3rd HBCT has sponsored the "Fireproof Your Marriage" peer study, a religious study based on the Christian film and held events via the Internet to help provide Soldiers more options to improve their marriage and stay connected with their spouses.

"A stable home life allows our Soldiers to focus on their mission and not be looking over their shoulder on what is going on back home," said Jones. "A Soldier with an unstable marriage will not have his mind on the mission. I think our leaders understand that a Soldier with a strong home life is a combat multiplier for the brigade."

Jones acknowledged that his Soldiers do have stressors that can affect their marriage. Being away from their families for a year, working long hours and having to be away when problems happen back home can be extremely difficult on a relationship.

"Being in the Army can pose difficulties for a marriage, but that doesn't mean those challenges are insurmountable," said Chaplain (Capt.) Bruce Duty, with the Brigade Special Troops Battalion. "It just means spouses need to invest more time and effort into 'battle proofing' their relationships."

Duty explained that people can have difficulty working on their marriages when they are separated by time and distance, but it is possible.

"It is more difficult when one half of the relationship is back home," Duty said. "It takes two individuals to make a marriage work; however, it does require an individual effort on each partner's part."

"I think that Soldiers and their spouses can use this time for personal reflection and start building good habits that can continue when they are reunited," he said.

Duty and Capt. Gina Wright, the 3rd HBCT's social worker, sponsored the six-week "Fireproof Your Marriage" peer study. It focused on strengthening a couple's marriage by using a Christian view as a base.

Wright recognized the group may not be for every Soldier, but said that she thinks it could be used as a springboard for more events. She frequently deals with Soldiers who have concerns about their marriage and hopes more of them will take advantage of services the brigade offers.

"I see it every day," she said. "If we, as a brigade, don't put out opportunities for couples to get help; we are not making a difference. I'm hoping that events like the Fireproof Your Marriage series will snowball into more opportunities and programs for married couples to improve their marriages."

While offering more programs and services to couples is a good start, Jones pointed out that they go to waste if Soldiers and their spouses don't use them.

"We can provide these resources, but it is ultimately up to the families to use them and communicate their needs to make it successful," he said. "Like any Army program, funds are set aside for it to be used. If they are not used, those same funds may not be there the next time around."

During his 22 years in the Army, Sgt. 1st Class Danny Waldrip, an operations noncommissioned officer in the 3rd HBCT, has been through a divorce. He encourages Soldiers to use the programs available to help their marriages.

"No matter how strong your marriage is, it can never be too strong," he said. "I would encourage any Soldier to take advantage of the opportunities the Army has provided us. Marriage counselors and seminars out in real world cost money. The fact that we, as Soldiers, have free access to them is a really good thing."

Waldrip encourages Soldiers to go into marriage with a serious mind-set.

"When you get married, you need to go into it with the mentality that it will not fail," he said. "The Soldier mentality you have about your military career needs to be infused in your marriage or it will not work...The words 'them' and 'they' cause divisions in a marriage. When you get married there should be no more 'you' and 'me'. It should be about 'we' and 'us'."

Waldrip knows first-hand how hard the time requirements of being Soldier can be on a marriage.
"An old football saying says that if you are the first one to practice and the last one to leave; you will be a good football player," he said. "With our job as Soldiers, we will always be the first one in the door and the last to leave. That isn't easy on a marriage. To be honest, cross-country truck drivers spend more time at home than we do... That being said, your marriage should never be something that takes a back seat to other things."

Duty agrees with Waldrip's assessment.

"In the Army, you get awards and accolades for doing well," said Duty. "In a marriage, doing well is expected. You won't get an award, but you will have the satisfaction of being in a good marriage and that should mean significantly more."

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