NEWS | July 1, 2021

First Team Strong Bonds retreat takes holistic approach to help Army families

By Staff Sgt. Nahjier Williams 1st TSC

One way that the Army strengthens its Soldiers and families is by providing training that enhances mental and spiritual readiness. The 1st Theater Sustainment Command’s Unit Ministry Team led from the front and hosted a three-in-one Strong Bonds retreat at the Omni Hotel in Indianapolis June 18-20. The combined event included programs for families, couples, and single Soldiers.

Aside from general readiness, Master Sgt. Meaghan Bicklein, senior religious affairs advisor, 1st TSC, said that her vison was to put together an event that puts Soldiers and families first.

“I think when we take the time to invest in our Soldiers and their families, ultimately Soldiers can function better at work,” Bicklein said.

The 1st TSC offered the event to Soldiers across the installation, further enhancing their partnership with fellow units.

“The group was very friendly, and the event was inclusive,” said Sgt. 1st Class Habakkuk Kim, field artillery branch manager, Human Resources Sustainment Command.

Kim, who attended the couple’s event with his wife Julieme Flexa Kim, said they were grateful for the opportunity and enjoyed the classes given by Bicklein.

“Everybody’s marriage and relationship is unique to them. We often compare ourselves to others because we are good at making it look good, but nobody has it all together,” Bicklein said.

The Strong Bonds retreat included catered meals and child care for Families attending the couples training, which allowed the Soldiers to focus on training, and enjoy quality time in the city outside of training time.

“Being a military spouse has been challenging at times, but I find it comforting knowing that programs like this exist,” said Virginia Kilafwasru, a military spouse attending the retreat with her husband.

Staff Sgt. Robert Kilafwasru, construction equipment noncommissioned officer, support operations, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, aid that he and his wife, who grew up in the same Micronesian village, have been married for 20 years, but that this was their first opportunity to attend a marriage retreat.

Just a week later 1st TSC’s religious affairs section hosted another Strong Bonds event, this time aimed at catering to the unit’s senior leaders.

“We are here to give senior leaders the time to work on their relationships, whether that’s with their spouse, their kids, or themselves,” said Chaplain (Col.) Douglas Swift, command chaplain, 1st TSC. Swift emphasized the importance of senior leaders taking the time to work on themselves.

“You have to take care of yourself,” Swift said. “You can’t lead if you’re not in a good place. If you practice this training that will be one less thing in your rucksack,” Swift added.

Although it’s important for all Soldiers to receive opportunities like these, senior leaders usually focus on the mission, and offer the opportunity to their Soldiers. That is why this retreat was organized especially for those who rarely get these chances.

“Strong Bonds is a program that the Army put together because they realize we put a lot of stress on the force,” said Col. Joseph Kurz, chief of staff, 1st TSC.

“The Strong Bonds event with First Team, led by Chaplain Swift, helps the [commanding general] build resiliency for the organization because it builds individual resiliency by strengthening the family,” Kurz said.

Oftentimes Soldiers lose the human factor when viewing each other, but after removing the uniform and adding in family, or a relaxed setting, they get the opportunity to see a different side of each other.

Sgt. Maj. Shannon Lacey, senior enlisted advisor, 18th Financial Management Support Center, said that Soldiers sometimes view each other as stringent and goal-oriented.

“This event provided a safe space for seniors to come together and speak openly,” Lacey said. “It’s nice to see that softened-up side when they’re with their spouse or children.” Lacey added.

“Senior Leaders are often so busy and have such a great responsibility load that they don’t break away from the job in order to dedicate the time to do their own renewal and strengthen their own bonds with families and peers,” Kurz said.

“I would encourage all leaders across the TSC to take advantage of this program,” Kurz said.

Kurz concluded by stating that he would like to see more of the seats filled during future events.