Military equipment requires regular maintenance to remain in good working order.
As it turns out, the same holds true for military families — and several times each year, the Wisconsin National Guard offers free workshops for its Soldiers and Airmen to fine-tune their relationships with spouses, children and significant others.
Lt. Col. Douglas Hedman, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s full-time state support chaplain, said the Strong Bonds programs the Wisconsin National Guard has been administering for the past decade help improve a service member’s readiness by providing tools to recognize and address various domestic issues.
“This is a way to strengthen military members and their families,” Hedman said. “It’s also a way to say ‘thank you’ for the sacrifices you make.”
Strong Bonds, a chaplain-led program, offers an array of relationship-strengthening programs geared for Wisconsin National Guard singles, couples and families. Pre-marital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge (P.I.C.K.) and Got Your Back educate single service members on identifying the dynamics that form relationship bonds as well as healthy and unhealthy relationship traits. The military family workshops focus on practices that result in effective families, healthy interactions, managing emotions, conflict resolution and improving support. The marriage workshops emphasize effective communications, decision making, setting goals and overcoming barriers.
“It really is a resiliency thing,” Hedman explained. “People don’t go because their relationship is in trouble — they go to improve their relationship.”
The workshops are not marital counseling, Hedman cautioned, and they are not one-time wonder cures for ailing relationships. But they are opportunities to take a break from the routine, get out of the house and learn to look at their relationship from a fresh perspective.
“Sometimes people don’t really take that time and really concentrate on where their relationship is going, and that’s one of the benefits of this weekend,” Hedman said. “They get to take that time and reevaluate how things are going. We usually send them out a lot better than when they got there — even if they’ve got a perfect marriage.
“They’ll have a good time,” he added. “And because they’ll have a good time, they’ll be more open to what the program offers. It’s a great investment for their relationship.”
Upcoming Strong Bond events include:
April 8-10: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families (Wisconsin Army National Guard)
April 21-May 1: P.I.C.K. for singles, LINKS — a relationship nurturing workshop — for couples, Home Run/Active Relationships for families (Wisconsin Air National Guard
May 20-22: Fearless Marriage, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families (Wisconsin Army National Guard)
Aug. 19-21: Fearless Marriage (Wisconsin Army National Guard)
Sept. 23-25: Got Your Back for singles, Fearless Marriage for couples, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families or Active Relationships for families (Wisconsin Air National Guard)
Event locations are e-mailed to Wisconsin National Guard members after they register online.
When the Wisconsin National Guard launched its Strong Bonds program, workshops were open to Army and Air National Guard members. Over the past few years, funding changes have resulted in the workshops administered separately for the Army and Air National Guard. Over the years, vendors behind the workshops have updated their programs based on service member and family feedback.
Hedman said many Wisconsin National Guard members attend more than one workshop to glean additional information to strengthen relationships. But the number of new service members entering the Wisconsin National Guard each year means there is always a group of Soldiers and Airmen unaware of the Strong Bonds program.
“We have to constantly tell people about Strong Bonds, and people that have gone are our best advertisement,” Hedman said.