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Connecting The Dotsl.i.nk.s Program Celebrates 20 Years

Story by Jeremy Beale on 10/30/2017
The vision for the program was established in 1995 by a group of Marine Corps spouses at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia, with the purpose of creating a Marine Corps 101 program.
However, the primary purpose was creating a program. which empowered new Marine spouses with valuable information and necessary tools to successfully navigate their personal and family lives while their Marines served the country.
The intent was not only to provide Marine Corps spouses with valuable information and tools, but to establish an independent, all-volunteer program that could be sustainable across all Marine installations.
As the program quickly rose as a prevailing force among Marine Corps' family services, L.I.N.K.S. became the universally recognized support structure across the Marine Corps, establishing something that was unseen until thena community system that effectively connected the dots between installations.
This road was not a smooth transition as L.I.N.K.S. did not become an official Marine Corps program until after the success of two pilot programs located at Marine Corps Base Quantico and Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Before L.I.N.K.S. held a designated place on each base, spouses donated their homes, furniture, televisions, food, toys and coloring books so that the spouses could meet together and conduct classes. Apart from the monetary possessions, spouses also donated their time and energy into volunteering as mentors, teachers, childcare providers and cooks so this small community could thrive in a welcoming setting.
The founding spouses of the program invested so much to see this dream become a reality until the Marine Corps announced LINKS as an official program in September 1997 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California.
Susan Braaten, one of the original founders, who marched up to the convention center in Leesburg, was not surprised at how far the program has come.
"L.I.N.K.S. has always been a program that was centered around community and pride in the Marine Corps," Braaten said. "Where it may incorporate much more than spouses now, it is all a part of what L.I.N.K.S. is about connecting the dots between the family and their Marine."
The program now offers workshops for every segment of the family including parents, legal guardians, children and even Marines themselves.
Participants within the program are afforded the opportunity to learn about Marine Corps history, traditions and values while also learning rank structure and local installation resources, services, benefits and Marine promotion and pay.
However, one of the key things, according to Braaten, is that Marine family members learn how to adapt to the Marine lifestyle.
"A spouse will not have a life that is simpleit can be fast-paced, uncertain and at times chaoticnew homes, new schools, long hours and deployment" Braaten said. "Just as the spouses don't know what it's like to be a Marine, the Marines don't know what it is like to be the spouse of a Marine."
L.I.N.K.S. has addressed a number of issues in regards to the Marine Corps lifestyle, but there is one subject that is the toughest to overcomethe side effects that have come from over 13 years of war.
War has become a reality for nearly two decades and as L.I.N.K.S. often navigates the tough topics of extended separations and deployment, families often come out of the experience proud of their Marine.
"Many who come through L.I.N.K.S. have questions, doubts or insecurities about the lifestyle, often asking themselves whether they are strong enough to endure it," Laura Gutzwiller, veteran L.I.N.K.S. member said. "But, it just so happens these men, women and children are strong enough to endure this challenge. In fact, most coming through the program leave stronger and more proud of their Marines."
Gutzwiller believes community is the most influential part of L.I.N.K.S.
"L.I.N.K.S. offers the ability for Marine family members to come together and ask the tough questions and learn from a community that has experienced the same problems as them," Gutzwiller said. "It is important to come together in a tight-knit group and take care of one anotherthat is what this is all aboutsupport for one another."
Col. Joseph Murray, Marine Corps Installations National Capital Region, Marine Corps Base Quantico spoke to the spouses at The Clubs At Quantico about the effectiveness of the program, he inspired the spouses to find new and innovative ways to continue the progress of the program.
Janel Howell, L.I.N.K.S. founder believes it was important for the new generation of L.I.N.K.S. spouses to remember their roots.
"The program was founded by a tight-knit community working together to make sure that everyone was cared and looked after," Howell said. "The next generation needs to remember what it means to be a small group, mentoring and fellowshipping with one another."
According to Howell, the internet is not a substitute for welcoming another family into your home and sharing with one another.
"People within the program need to gather together regularly, help each other with childcare, support one another in the tough times and celebrate each other in the good," Howell said.
Karina Phillips, another L.I.N.K.S. founder believes there are very few things more important than family.
"L.I.N.K.S. is a program that surrounds the idea of family, unifies it and makes sure every voice is heard and looked after," Phillips said.
According to Phillips when a case study was conducted in 2007 about Marine Corps programs the program headquarters said to leave alone because L.I.N.K.S. is a representation of family.
As the L.I.N.K.S. celebration ended with a cake cutting ceremony, the newest L.I.N.K.S. member accepted a saber from the longest L.I.N.K.S. member as symbol of many more successes to come.
If you have questions or would like to join or volunteer for the L.I.N.K.S. program call 703- 634-2678 or email mcftbquantico@usmc-mccs.org.

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