Ryan and Mallory Corcoran put some serious work into getting ready from his return from Afghanistan this past winter. The Joint Base Lewis-McChord cavalry sergeant talked with his chaplain and made a plan to set reasonable expectations for his homecoming.
It paid off with a low-key and satisfying return, he said, much easier than the whirlwind he and his wife experienced after his 2009-10 mission in Iraq.
“We knew what to expect and planned accordingly,” Ryan, 23, said.
They took a little more time for their relationship on Friday at a “marriage spur ride” with their chaplain, Capt. Rick Pak. It’s a one-day marriage retreat the veteran Army chaplain put together to give soldiers some tips while playing on the tradition of cavalry “spur rides.”
Spur rides are physical tests where soldiers “earn their spurs” by demonstrating they can meet cavalry standards. Soldiers earn silver spurs while training, and they get gold ones if they deploy with a cavalry unit.
At Pak’s marriage spur ride, couples worked through about five hours of classroom exercises learning communication tips and talking about one another’s personalities. Afterward, they went outside for some light-hearted exercises meant to test the couples, such as marching with a casualty litter for a couple laps around a chapel.
Pak handed each of the seven couples who attended this week’s event a different kind of spur. It linked two gold spurs together to resemble a heart.
“I’m not saying marriage is like warfare,” he told them, referring to his use of gold spurs instead of silver ones. “But it’s a reminder to daily fight for your marriage.”
Pak has served with Lewis-McChord’s 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment for the past five years, deploying both to Iraq and Afghanistan with the unit. The squadron came home from its last deployment in December, and Pak has noticed that some couples are starting to come down from the initial exuberance of a homecoming.
He’s spending more time talking to soldiers about relationships lately, he said.
“There’s usually a cycle,” he said. “We’re actually going through issues that have been on the backburner.”
His session on Friday filled an unmet demand for couples’ counseling. Budget constraints led the Army this year to scale back on paying for popular out-of-town, overnight marriage retreats. The cavalry squadron had to cancel one it had booked for last month, but it expects to have another one this summer.
The Corcorans have attended those so-called Strong Bonds retreats in the past. The getaways provide service members with time to focus on their families, and they offer childcare for couples with kids.
Pak infused the marriage spur ride with material from the Oxygen for Relationships seminar developed by Bellevue-based nonprofit Stronger Families. Pak has been using that seminar since 2010, when he first held a marriage spur ride.
The Corcorans said it had a similar feel to other couples’ events they’ve attended, and they appreciated the reminders they heard.
Mallory frequently teased Ryan during the morning session, as if to say, “You do that” when the chaplain described an unattractive quality in a partner. He gave the same glimpses back to her.
Pak married them just after the squadron’s last Iraq tour. They liked his style. “He makes it fun,” Mallory said.
Several of the marriage spur ride couples were newlyweds. They were affectionate throughout the session, and some said they had an Aha! moment.
Staff Sgt. Christian and Lourdes Ozuna of Tacoma got married in August. The homework Pak gave them ahead of time led them to talk about some issues they had been avoiding.
“This gave us time to think,” Chirstian Ozuna, 27, said.
He has been in the Army for eight years and deployed three times to war. He said the Army can sometimes be all-consuming at the expense of relationships.
“You really get focused on your tasks,” he said. “This took me out of my routine.”
This was my second time observing Capt. Pak since the cavalry squadron came home. We’re planning to publish a feature story soon on families getting adjusted to being home together. Some of the above material will appear in that story.