Yellow Ribbon Event Helps Reservists, Families
(November 4, 2010)
Army Reserve Cpl. Jorge Velazquez, recently returned
home to Puerto Rico after a deployment to Iraq, and his wife, Jennifer Aruela,
said they hope the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program will help them resolve
Velazquez' No. 1 post-deployment challenge: finding a civilian job. The couple
joined other 1st Mission Support Command families during an Oct. 30-31 Yellow
Ribbon event in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Nov. 1, 2010 – Less than
two months after returning home from a year-long
deployment to Iraq, Army Reserve Cpl. Jorge
Velazquez hadn't expected his homecoming to be
Duty in Iraq had been tough for the young
soldier, a supply sergeant who found himself
working the emotionally charged mortuary affairs
mission with responsibility for five different
But now that he's home with his family,
Velazquez has a whole new set of challenges
before him. He's learning to be a father to the
1-year-old born just after he deployed while
struggling to pay the bills as he desperately
job-hunts in a labor market showing no signs of
turning around any time soon.
“At Balad [Air Base in Iraq], I didn't have to
worry about these things,” said Valazquez, who
serves with the 1st Mission Support Command's
210th Regional Support Group. “I pretty much
just focused on the mission.”
After returning home to Puerto Rico, Velazquez
found himself burying his nose in his video
games to escape his frustrations. “It was my way
of relieving stress, because I was looking for a
job, and the phone wasn't ringing,” he said.
Fortunately for Velazquez, the Defense
Department's Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program
had helped to prepare his wife, Jennifer Aruela,
to expect these challenges. She'd been to the
support group sessions while he was gone and talked with a psychologist to
better understand what he might experience after returning home.
During the Oct. 29-31 weekend, the couple joined about 160
other Army Reserve families from throughout the 1st MSC for
a Yellow Ribbon event designed to help ease their
post-deployment transition. |
The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, established by
Congress in 2008, aims to help Reserve and National Guard
members reintegrate with their families, communities and
civilian employers. It features a series of events
throughout the deployment cycle, beginning with
predeployment sessions that prepare the soldiers and their
families for what's ahead, explained Army Brig. Gen.
Fernando Fernandez, the 1st MSC commanding general.
Additional events include a family session during the
deployment and three post-demobilization events: at 30, 60,
then 90 days after redeployment.
Fernandez said the program makes the entire deployment
process smoother by building family resilience and arming
families with information and points of contact so they know
where to turn if they need help.
Ultimately, family readiness affects military readiness, he
“Preparing the families gives soldiers peace of mind so when
they deploy, they know their families are being taken care
of, and they can concentrate on the mission,” the general
Fernandez, a 28-year soldier who remembers returning with
his soldiers from an Operation Desert Storm deployment with
no thought given to any adjustment period after combat, said
he also sees huge value in the Yellow Ribbon program's
“This is an opportunity for the soldiers to reintegrate with
their families,” he said. “It's an opportunity to assess,
after they come back, how are they dealing with it? How is
that soldier integrating after being gone for a year?”
Like Velazquez, many of the Army Reservists from the 166th
and 210th Regional Support Groups' headquarters and
headquarters detachments and the Rear Operations Center
Detachment who gathered for their 30-day event still were
adjusting to the new realities of being home.
It wasn't always what they had romanticized about while they
were gone. Some had to work to reinsert themselves into
families that had become self-sufficient in their absence.
Others found themselves needing to build trust in young
children who simply couldn't understand why they'd been
abandoned. Still others had to adjust to new disciplinary
approaches introduced in their households while they were
Army Master Sgt. Rodney Pearson, a drill sergeant from
Fountain Inn, S.C., who cross-leveled into the 210th RSC for
the deployment, remembered the day his 12-year-old son,
angry that Pearson wouldn't let him have his way, lashed
out, “I wish you would never have come home!”
“It stabbed me to the heart,” Pearson said, smiling
sheepishly as if embarrassed he'd let the adolescent
outburst get to him.
Two months after returning home, Pearson said, it felt great
to reunite with his battle buddies for the Yellow Ribbon
program and to have the Army treat him and his family to a
“mini-vacation” in Puerto Rico.
“From Day One, the [Puerto Rican reservists] pretty much
adopted me as their brother in arms,” he said. “I think it's
been really valuable to do a Yellow Ribbon event with the
unit you deployed with, because they're the ones who know
you, who have become your brothers. For me, this is like a
As the soldiers and families reconnected during the weekend
Yellow Ribbon event, they attended a broad array of sessions
aimed at helping them overcome post-deployment challenges.
The topics, tailored to the units' needs, ran the gamut from
relationship-building and suicide and drug and alcohol abuse
prevention to post-deployment benefits and services provided
by the military or state.
Outside the conference rooms, attendees wandered among
booths where they could chat with experts about different
support programs and services or, to Valazquez's delight,
submit job applications with employers hiring new workers.
“This is really beneficial,” Pearson said of the array of
offerings. “It gives us the resources we might not know
about if there are issues, and the tools to be a stronger
“It's great to be able to take a break and come to a nice
place with the family and get exposed to the programs that
are out there for us,” echoed Army Staff Sgt. Miguel Adame,
a 166th RSG soldier who attended the session with his wife,
Otilia, and three children. “There's a lot of value in a
program like this.”
Some of the most valuable lessons came during the less
formal information-sharing sessions.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Ariel Feliciano, the 1st Mission Support Command's first sergeant, and his wife, Barbara Rodriguez, say two deployments to Iraq have actually strengthened their 35-year marriage. The couple participated in a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 30-31, 2010.
Barbara Rodriguez said she thought she was ready
for just about anything when her husband, Army
Command Sgt. Maj. Ariel Feliciano, the 1st MSC's
first sergeant, left for his second deployment
to Iraq. She'd already been tested by fire –
literally – when the couple's home burned to the
ground during his 18-month deployment in 2003.
“I thought the second deployment would be
easier, because I'd already been through all
that, but it wasn't so. I realized that every
deployment is different and has its own
challenges,” Rodriguez said. “If I hadn't
attended the Yellow Ribbon events, I wouldn't
have understood the value of the family
readiness group, and I wouldn't have been able
to take advantage of all the resources here to
Now an active family readiness group volunteer,
Rodriguez has become a huge fan of the Yellow
Ribbon program. It builds Army Reserve families'
self-confidence, she said, as well as a sense of
security and recognition that “somebody cares.”
“For spouses and families, it's building
[resilience],” she said. “They are getting the
tools they need to be stronger and more
For Rodriguez and Feliciano, their second deployment, with support and
information provided through the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, had an
unexpected payoff for their 35-year marriage.|
“Our marriage got stronger and we became closer,” said Rodriguez. “We care more
now about the little things: the family activities, sharing thoughts,
communicating. It's actually turned out to be a positive for us.”
Article and photos by Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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