During group discussion, Ashley Draper smiled at her husband Jacob.

renewing romance

Schofield soldiers and spouses
get a handle on deployment

The cameras always catch the loving embrace as a soldier returns to his or her spouse after a long deployment to a faraway place.

It's a perfect ending to long weeks of coping and nights of loneliness. It's an affirmation of love and commitment. But it doesn't mean all's right with the world.

A dozen Army couples talked last weekend about the strain on their marriages brought by the separation that comes with the job. The Schofield Barracks couples shared laughs, tears, jibes and personal vulnerability as they participated in a Reunion Retreat led by 25th Infantry Division Chaplain Keith Jones.

The program during two nights and three days in a Waikiki hotel was a brew of some prayer and some griping, group therapy and self-analysis, role-playing and craft-making, intended to dramatize the effort it takes to make a marriage work.

Our culture encourages a setup of "idealized memories" while spouses are apart, said the chaplain, but "when you get home, after a few weeks of honeymoon, it's the same old thing."

"We didn't have a honeymoon ... On the first day we were on each other's nerves," said Trisha Morningstar about husband Steven's recent return.

At a chaplaincy marriage retreat at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel for Schofield soldiers, among the activities to bring couples closer together was this unity candle making. Here, Kelly, left, and Natashia Banks make their candles.

"Why don't you get another job" was Vanessa Rea's poignant comment to Capt. Mark Rea in a cartoon they all collaborated on.

Points of view from the one who flew away and the one left behind ran parallel in "A Six-Month Strip" taped to the hotel meeting room walls.

Sitting in a circle Saturday, they chimed in to fill in the blanks for an awareness exercise. Before deployment:

"We had a lot of anger for each other," said Staff Sgt. Jacob Draper.

"We had no lines of communication and we were always angry at each other," echoed his wife, Ashley, who is expecting their second child in two months.

"We can't take the separation for granted and assume it's over so you're back where you began. When you come back, it is like forming a new family," said Jones.

Jones' wife, Carla, assisted him at the retreat, providing personal anecdotes from their 19 years of marriage, which has endured several separations.

Couples counseling isn't a new thing for military chaplains. Jones developed the curriculum of the "Reunion Retreat" as a model for use by other military chaplains.

Military couples at a retreat held at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel made unity candles as part of the program. Here, Kelly, right, and Natashia Banks make their candles.

"At this division, we weren't a big war-deploying force, but it constantly experiences deployment. With these tools, our family should be able to weather the consequences."

Although the talk was often about practical matters -- finances, chores, child care -- "spirituality is the essential underpinning," said the chaplain, a Baptist minister.

"Essentially what is suggested throughout is that God was responsible for the relationship," Jones said.

Jones told the circle, "In a marriage there are times when you won't like her. Some people see marriage like a tissue: As soon as it gets soggy, they want to throw it away."

"God didn't get you together just so you get your goodies," he said. "God's purpose is bigger than deployment."

Another exercise: How did you change?

Sgt. Chad Jones said his wife Laila "became more independent. She learned to appreciate her time by herself ... which left me time to myself."

Laila Jones said her sports fanatic husband has compromised by leaving some televised events unwatched to spend time with her.

Chad Jones said that "it is a way of worship to work things out. We're going to work on our differences because that's how God wants it."

Kelly and Natashia Banks, both Army sergeants, have been separated for 3 1/2 of the past 6 1/2 years, assigned to separate locations.

"When we came here, it was our first time living in the same house," he said.

"When we were able to bring our two families together, that's what took us over the top," he said.

One weekend project to put the accent on the positive was the crafting of a new unity candle -- a takeoff on a common wedding ritual which the chaplain labeled "cute but what did it mean."

Each pair melted candle wax to encapsulate strips of paper carrying brief revelations about themselves, "The way we were" before separation, "The ways I've changed" and "The ways you've changed."

The retreat master gave the group Saturday "homework," an afternoon to be spent in each other's company -- no separating to shop or surf -- and a charge to bring back something for "show and tell" that represents their life together.

One pair brought a Rubic's cube as defining their relationship, "a puzzle that works once you figure it out."

Another couple found roses symbolic of a family that "Only God can create and cause to grow."

The shared weekend brought hilarity at their own version of "The Newlyweds Game" and romance at a Saturday night dance to discs spun by Master Sgt. Ute Harris' husband Jerome. And the Sunday morning finale, renewal of marriage vows, brought tears, even to the eyes of returned warriors.

The weekend began with "Worship With Hands." As all sat with eyes shut, they focused on the reading:

"God gave you two hands. Both have been busy with the cold steel of weapons or the wet bottoms of babies ... wed to computer keyboards and gas nozzles.

"Your hands were lonely hands for an awfully long time ... empty without another hand to hold. You clasped these hands together in prayer and asked God to keep safe the hands that you love. Reach out and find the hands of your loved one. It may fit perfectly but it is not a perfect hand. It has faults and has done faulty things. Can you hold onto this hand anyway?"

In a sentence, that was the mission of the Reunion Retreat.

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