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Wild Rose Equestrian Center co-owner Karen Brown and her husband remember what it was like for them before and during deployment.
Brown was in the military for three years, until she had to leave to support her husband’s 20-year military career and avoid the possibility of the couple being stationed in different locations.
The Browns and local U.S. Army officials want to help area soldiers and their families avoid some of the stress that can be put on single and married soldiers with families.
The Browns and the Army are cooperating to offer a free chaplain-run program called Strong Bonds.
The program began this past fall and has another session later this month.
It focuses on relationship skills, rather than therapy.
The goal is to promote individual readiness by making sure soldiers and their families are ready for deployment, Brown said.
“Without training and support, wives and kids don’t understand mission readiness,” she said.
Common challenges include preparing for a deployment, which means the soldier’s bags need to be packed and the family needs to be prepared for the soldier to have two hours notice before leaving to go anywhere in the world, Brown said.
“That does not leave family time,” she said.
The remaining spouse might be living as a single parent, except they’re responsible for whatever decisions they made when their spouse returns, such as whether to repair or sell a car that breaks down, Brown said.
“They weren’t there to consult, and you can’t pick up a phone and call them,” she said.
Brown said receiving relationship education and skill training before a deployment to talk about communication, expectations, problem solving, forgiveness, child-rearing and other vital issues helps couples avoid some of the stress and fights that the Browns, and countless other marriages, have had to withstand.
“You’re able to deal with those things and know where your spouse stands on them,” she said.
Even long-time military families can benefit from such lessons, she said.
Deployments also affect single soldiers, so there also are retreats and lessons aimed at them and their families.
Half of soldiers are single, and most get married while on active duty. Uncertainty, loneliness and pressure can lead single soldiers into making hasty decisions about marriage or other important decisions, Brown said.
Program leaders talk to single soldiers about issues such as what they should be looking for in a healthy relationship and what they can expect from their future in the military.
Brown said many soldiers don’t want to take time for the counseling, especially when they’re getting ready for deployment.
That’s why Wild Rose and military leaders are offering free daycare to participants and the chance to groom and ride horses in their free time while couples practice the skills that they learned about in the program, Brown said.
“You crawl up on a horse that does not speak English,” she said. “That animal does not speak your language. If that’s not a test of communication, I don’t know what is.”
The best way for soldiers to sign up for the program is to contact their unit chaplains.
Amber Coulter can be reached at email@example.com or (270) 505-1746.