MOBILE, ALABAMA — They fought in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. While they came from generations almost half a century apart, these warriors share a common bond as Veterans who sacrificed for America’s distant wars.
Eager to learn skills very different from those that helped them survive and return home from the battlefield, they came together with spouses and significant others this weekend at an intensive marriage retreat at Mobile’s historic Admiral Semmes Hotel. Forever warriors, they spent 2-1/2 days locked within the arms, eyes and hearts of loved ones as they learned to battle for the health, resiliency and happiness of their marriages and families.
“The possibility that our Veterans lose their marriages and families as a result of their service and sacrifices to protect ours is something none of us should accept.”
~ Seth Eisenberg, PAIRS Foundation
The weekend marriage retreat, developed by the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Hollywood, FL, is one of dozens taking place nationwide this summer through funding from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Patient-Centered Care and Cultural Transformation Initiative. Since 2009, the VA has provided grants for hundreds of chaplains and behavioral health professionals to receive training to lead PAIRS programs. Research has shown the program is highly effective boosting communication, emotional connection, and problem-solving skills; tools that can help Veterans reclaim and restore marriages that are too often casualties to the visible and invisible wounds of war.
“I wish that someone would have offered us an opportunity to learn these skills when my husband first returned from Vietnam. I feel like we were robbed of 45 years of our married life.”
~ Carolyn Milstid
Wife of Vietnam Veteran
Carolyn Milstid said she’s waited more than 40 years for the opportunity to reconnect with the man she fell in love with before he left for Vietnam.
“I wish that someone would have offered us an opportunity to learn these skills when my husband first returned from Vietnam,” Milstid said. “I feel like we were robbed of 45 years of our married life.”
Jill Rogers didn’t have to wait 45 years. “The impact that this will have on our marriage is huge,” Rogers said.
Brandon Lloyd agreed. “This really makes me look forward to the future,” he said.
Rose Denton left the weekend grateful for what she called an “opened door I know will help our marriage.”
Jo Kirkendall, a staff chaplain with the VA’s Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi, MS began putting the weekend together a year ago after completing four days of PAIRS certification training in San Antonio. While funding was awarded by VA in 2012, gaining local and regional approvals and working through contracting requirements delayed the start of the program by nearly 12 months.
Seth Eisenberg is President of PAIRS Foundation. He has trained many of the VA professionals who are leading PAIRS workshops through local VA Healthcare facilities around the country. Eisenberg traveled to Alabama to lead the weekend with Chaplain Kirkendall, her husband, Chaplain Jim Kirkendall, and VA Social Worker Bill Hall, all of whom have been certified as PAIRS Instructors.
“It’s impossible not to be deeply touched by the experience of meeting and serving these heroes and their spouses,” Eisenberg said. “The possibility that our Veterans lose their marriages and families as a result of their service and sacrifices to protect ours is something none of us should accept,” he added.
Rob Henthorn grew up in a military family in Arlington, Virginia. His father served in the U.S. Army’s light infantry during WWII, the Ar