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21+ Free Programs and Tools to Strengthen Military Relationships

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Military life can take a toll on relationships and not just romantic or marital! Your connections with parents, siblings, extended family, friends, neighbors and the larger community can all be impacted by military service. Good news! A number of free programs available to service members and their families strengthen relationships with family, friends and the community. Here’s a listing of some popular programs, including those highlighted in this article.

Tools to Strengthen Your Connections to Military Life

Jumping into military life as a service member or a spouse can be overwhelming! There is so much to understand and know, seemingly all at once. However, there are lots of ways to build connections that are meaningful, educational and helpful.

Family Training

Military branches may offer some sort of on-boarding for new spouses, parents of service members and military connected kids.

USMC connected families, even those in other services but stationed at a Marine base, can access a L.I.N.K.S. class at their nearest Marine Corps base. L.I.N.K.S. stands for: Lifestyle, Information, Networking, Knowledge and Skills. It’s essentially a crash course in the USMC way of life – for spouses, teens, younger kids, parents of Marines and extended family.

Army families can check out an event with Building Strong & Ready Teams. Link L.I.N.K.S., this training has options for many different individuals who are connected to military life. It’s a great way to learn more about Army life while making connections to others at your location.

There are many different variations of these courses, each option tailored to the audience demographic. For example, spouses will learn about their installation, some of the unwritten rules of being a so-called dependent, and how to read an LES. Plus, you’ll be able to mix and mingle with other spouses!

Check with your unit leadership team to see if your base or branch of service might have similar courses available.

Spouse Organizations

One of the key ways to build connections to military life is by meeting other military spouses. Spouse organizations and clubs are a great way to foster these relationships!

Formerly called “wives” clubs, most if not all groups have moved to the more inclusive spouse or significant other language. These groups are also for everyone, regardless of the service member’s rank; in the past, clubs were separated into officer and enlisted spouses.

There may be clubs for specific units or groups, like for aviation loved ones or for one particular command unit. However, there are also base-wide clubs, like for all of Fort Bragg for example.

Stroller Warriors

For fitness-minded individuals, joining a military-only running club is one of the best ways to log miles and grow friendships.

While “stroller” is in the name, there is no parenthood requirement. Women (and men) of all ages and stages of life are welcome to join! Come with a child in a stroller on a bike or on foot with you. Bring your dog on leash for a run. Or just come all on your own.

Family Readiness

Depending on your branch of service, this might have different names. The intent in the same: to provide support to family members in a unit or command throughout their time at the duty station.

Typically, there is a paid (or sometimes volunteer) person in charge, plus a few more volunteer leaders who help organize events or activities. Units might see the frequency, type or level of support wax and wane along with the deployment cycle.

If you need something and don’t know where to turn, your family readiness leader is a great place to turn for support!

Resources to Build Your Military Marriage

Life-Giver

Corie Weathers is a military spouse and licensed professional counselor who has centered her practice around military and service spouses. Her Life-Giver organization offers tools and resources to help you and your loved ones weather the storms of military relationships.

Deployment can be a major challenge for military couples. Long-distance relationships are hard in and of themselves, but adding in combat or other service-specific hurdles and it becomes so much more. Corie’s amazing podcast shares insights and offers advice to help military couples make their long-distance relationship work.

Corie’s book, Sacred Spaces, provides additional insights and tools to help military marriages connect and reconnect through communication about shared, and individual, experiences.

Pillar Retreat

Founded by the force behind this blog, Joanna Guildon-Noll, and the founder of Brave Crates, Becky Hoy, this deployment-specific virtual retreat is designed to help you thrive during your long separation. These two ladies have experienced deployments throughout the last 15 years, including deployments at sea, on land and in combat zones.

They call upon the leading military life experts to help significant others on the home front design a deployment experience that is supportive, comfortable and loving. Tickets are free, too!

Join a Marriage Retreat

Sometimes, to make long-distance love thrive, it helps to get away together for a weekend or week focused on building healthy relationships and increasing marital satisfaction.

You can find so many options for free military marriage retreats, including ones offered through the on-base chaplain’s office.

Through the Army’s Strong Bonds program, couples can join a weekend retreat with a mission to strengthen their marriage through a solid faith practice. The Navy’s chaplains offer CREDO, a base-specific faith-based option that foster emotional connection on a spiritual level.

Operation We Are Here maintains an active list of options for additional free or low-cost retreats open to military couples. Again, many of these are faith, especially Christian, based. However, there are secular and non-Christian options available.

Grow Connections to Your Civilian Community

PTA/PTO

If you have children, joining the Parent-Teacher Association or Organization can be a wonderful way to connect to your community regularly! You’ll meet other parents, build relationships with school employees, and actively support your child’s education. It’s a wonderful way to give back while also being proactive in creating the K-12 school your child needs.

Volunteer in the Community

There are so many ways to volunteer, both on and off base. Not only will your neighbors benefit, but you’ll build stronger social life connections to your current hometown.

On base, consider:

  • Joining the Family Readiness Group as a volunteer
  • Invite single service members over for holiday meals
  • Volunteer to “sponsor” a young service member who is far from home
  • Sign up for shifts at the local USO lounge or office

In the civilian community, you might try:

  • Connecting to local schools to volunteer your services – K-12 schools are always looking for free help!
  • Become a Big Brother or Big Sister
  • Join the community organization that maintains gardens or other public spaces
  • Connect with a club that mirrors your interests

Practice Your Faith

Joining a faith community can be so wonderful for your personal growth as well as finding a ready-made support network. When you move (or even right now!), search online for your ideal religious organization. You might try “(faith)+(location)”, for example: Catholic Church+Arlington, VA. This helps you to narrow your focus.

Try out a few different services and groups before you settle down. This can help you find somewhere that is just right for you and your family.

Then, reach out to the religious leadership team and introduce your family. Let them know what you are looking for in a faith community. This will help you to find exactly the support you need!

Boost Your Parent-Child Relationship

FOCUS

Families Overcoming Under Stress, or FOCUS, is a relatively new program for military families. This is a whole-family approach, with sessions for everyone, just kids, and just parents or adults. By completing this program together, you will all gain tools for stress management. Your child will thrive with healthy parent-child relationships.

Military Family Retreats

Being a military family presents unique challenges. Sometimes we could all, parents and kids, use some communication refreshers. That is what family retreats offer!

Strong Bonds (Army posts) and CREDO (Navy bases) both offer occasional family retreats as part of their missions and services. Ask your unit’s chaplain for more information.

Operation We Are Here also maintains a list of free and low-cost options for military family retreats, as well as additional vacation ideas, to help everyone reconnect while having fun.

Continue to Connect with Loved Ones Long Distance

There aren’t a lot of resources specific to helping you or your active duty spouse maintain strong bonds with families and friends back home. Instead, try these free ideas:

  • Social Media: while you should always be careful about what you post, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be great ways to share a glimpse into your military life no matter the distance.
  • Video Chat: Zoom Google Meet and FaceTime are awesome ways for fostering a close personal relationship when you’re both in different places. With increased connectivity, this is a great option to use during military deployments, too!
  • Traditional Mail & Email: sometimes the written word is so powerful! Use it and send cards, letters and emails to those you love most.

Foster a Positive Relationship with Yourself

InDependent

We love this non-profit organization built by military spouses, for military spouses (and first responder spouses, too!). InDependent offers so many great resources designed to help ground us in this transient life while also sharing concrete, local or virtual resources for mental wellness.

Use the search tool to find a mental health professional located near you, or someone virtual who meets your needs.

InDependent also hosts a free, virtual wellness summit every spring. This is a great multi-platform options to learn and grow with a community of like-minded people. InDependent also always pulls in tons of advice from recognized experts.

MFLC

Military Family Life Counselors (MFLC) provide a crucial service to help support military spouses and family members through the ups and downs of this life. They provide insights and advice during each session. What happens when you meet is strictly off the record; nothing is ever written down and no case files are maintained.

You can find info about your local MFLC through the Military and Family Support Center.

MilitaryOneSource + Coach Hub

Sometimes the most important relationship you have is with yourself. MilitaryOneSource offers free personalized life coaching in conjunction with Coach Hub.

This is a service that is tailored to your specific goals and personality. Communicate with your coach via text message or through the app, 24/7. It’s a great way to figure out a path to the best you possible, all for free!


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