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Couples from Marine Aircraft Group 26 and the surrounding area attended a one-day Chaplain Religious Enrichment Development Organization Marriage Enrichment Retreat on Marine Corps Air Station New River, April 29. The purpose of the retreat is to give couples the tools they need to strengthen their marriage.

“We do this CREDO one day retreat in an innovative way: we offer free child care and free children’s resiliency programming,” said Lt. Brandon Hood, chaplain for MAG-26. “It’s hard for a couple that has kids to attend a CREDO retreat. Now they’ve got to find a weekend worth of child care. That can be both expensive and a logistical pain so we are in partnership with Single Marine Program, the USO of North Carolina, the New River Base Fire Department and the MCAS New River Base Library to offer free children’s programming throughout the day.”

The kids were able to climb on the firetruck, have a story time with the base library and the USO. The USO gave out free kids’ books.

“We have always wanted to do a CREDO retreat but we’ve never been able to just because they’ve been the type of retreats where you have to go stay at a hotel and we’ve got two little kids,” said Alyssa Cunningham, spouse. “So, we were really excited about the opportunity to do a one-day retreat with childcare provided.”

Married or engaged couples, spouses of deployed Marines can attend the retreats. During the retreat confidentiality is kept as a high value.

“It’s under a confidentiality umbrella. What’s said in the room doesn’t leave the room. Spouses get permission to share what could be hilarious, embarrassing details about their marriage,” said Hood. “It’s very conversational. We have participants practice how to overcome conflict, how to listen to each other better and how to take a time out when things get heated and cool down before returning to important conversations. We’re helping Marines get out of the dog house and helping couples thrive again knowing marriage is hard work.”

The retreat is open to new couples or old couples. The techniques that are taught are made to work with any type of dynamic.

“Whether they’re preparing to get married or they’re long married they learn proven techniques that both the Military Family Life Counselor and I teach them,” said Hood. “Techniques on overcoming conflict in marriage, navigating in-laws, navigating deployment, dealing with finances, dealing with stress, preventing affairs and just putting boundaries over their marriage to make it healthy and make it thrive.”

   The techniques taught during the retreat come from leading marital psychologists. Couples leave the retreat with at least two free books.

   “We’re using a curriculum today called Prepare, Enrich. Prepare, Enrich was developed by leading marital psychologist over decades. It’s just one of potentially three different curriculums we’ll use today,” said Hood. “Prepare, Enrich alone was proven in an Army study to reduce the risk of divorce by one-third among Army couples who took this curriculum in a retreat or in marriage counseling. So we figure if the Army can cut its divorce rate by a third using this material, Marines are going to blow that statistic out of the water and do far better.”

   The retreat is secular in nature. Couples can meet with their Chaplains after to get faith-based support.

   “(We’re) excited to see what all’s covered. The information that was provided is anything from new couples to seasoned couples just as an overall here’s a bunch of tools to continue to grow or to continue where you’re at,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Cunningham, intelligence chief, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162.

   “We’ve been married for six and a half years now,” said Alyssa. “There’s always something new to learn.”

Staff Sgt. Matthew Cunningham and his wife, Alyssa, laugh during the Chaplain Religious Enrichment Development Organization Marriage Enrichment Retreat on Marine Corps Air Station New River, Apr. 29, 2017. It was a one-day retreat that offered free childcare so couples with kids had a way to attend and learn techniques on how to improve their marriage. Cunningham is the intelligence chief for Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162.