ORLANDO, Fla.- “We've all heard Gen. Odierno's closing comments to his speeches: the strength of our nation is our Army, the strength of our Army is our Soldiers, and the strength of our Soldiers is our families. There is no Soldier who has become successful without the support of a caring family. The large presence at this Yellow Ribbon event is proof of just how much they care,” said Maj. Gen. Leslie Purser, 108th Training Command (IET) commanding general.
The Army Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program is designed to provide resources to Soldiers and their families throughout every phase of deployment.
But for the families of Soldiers from the 108th Training Command (IET) deployed as Task Force Beast in Afghanistan, the greatest resource provided to them at a recent event in Orlando was each other.
January 31, 2005 - Soldiers and family members get to know one another during the opening ceremonies of the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program event held in Orlando, Fla. What started in 2007 by the Minnesota National Guard, has since grown throughout the entire National Guard and Army Reserve. The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program provides resilience training to service members and their families as well as raising awareness of the numerous programs available to all deploying service members. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton)
“If it weren't for the Yellow Ribbon events, I wouldn't have the support network that I do. Our Soldiers were pulled from all across the country for this deployment. I was able to meet everyone in our group during the first event. We do a weekly check-in that I really look forward to. I can discuss issues that arise and I always get a great response. Through the Yellow Ribbon, I realized that I am not alone and it helps,” said Jessica Garza, the spouse of a deployed Reserve Soldier now dealing with deployment stress for the first time.
“Having a connection with everyone and meeting people who are on the same level and just knowing that they are going through the same struggles as me makes it easier. Even though we live far apart, we keep in contact, whether it's through email or a phone call. I've made some great friends through this program and in the military once you make a friend, you've got a friend for life,” Garza added.
Jessica's friend Mary Langley, now dealing with her third deployment agreed.
“Yellow Ribbon wasn't an option the first two deployments because my husband and I weren't married. I didn't know what this was all about but I gave it a try and it's been a huge help. I've met some great friends through this program who serve as my support group. This was my first opportunity to participate in Yellow Ribbon and it's been a great benefit,” Langley said.
The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program was originally the brainchild of the Minnesota National Guard and was known as Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program. The concept quickly spread throughout the entire National Guard and in 2008 congress mandated that the Reserve component offer the program to all deploying service members and their families.
What originally began as seven events, Yellow Ribbon has gone through several revisions until it was finally streamlined into the program it is today, offering Soldiers and their families a total of four events: one pre-deployment, one during-deployment, and two post-deployment events.
The goal of the program is to provide resources for deploying Soldiers and their families throughout the entire deployment; from the notification of deployment to long after the Soldier has returned. Among the many services offered are resilience training, Tricare benefits, and budgeting and financial service training.
“My primary mission is to help organize the different events, but there's been quite a few times when I have ended up serving as a conduit between the families and the different resources. Sometimes the families will want to know how to get in touch with different resources such as military one source or family programs and we try to point them in the right direction,” said Laquiton Hare, Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program contractor for the 108th Training Command (IET).
“There's a great deal of detail that goes into bringing all this together but I love it. When I deployed we didn't have Yellow Ribbon. We had family readiness groups and things like that but this helps bring all the benefits and services that are available to the Soldiers and their families directly to them. It takes out the guess work,” Hare said.
For each event, service providers and vendors are brought together under one roof and are given the opportunity to present their product directly to each service member and their families, each in their own unique way.
“With active duty service members you have a captive audience. They are told to be there and they are there. With family members it's a little bit different especially on the active duty side. It's hard to bring all of those families together. With the Yellow Ribbon you have the opportunity to bring all of those families together and it works. This is my first experience with the program but it work's and I like it,” said Gerald Felder, suicide prevention program manager for the 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and retired Navy Chaplain.
“I was anticipating something completely different when I took this job. But I have to say the Reserve component has done a great job of getting me out and about and talking to people. It's important but a lot of people don't see the importance until something happens. Events like this help. It give you a proactive approach to some difficult subjects,” Felder said.
No matter how you look at it, one thing everyone involved in the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program agreed on, from family member to program contractor to vendor; Yellow Ribbon helps build upon our Army's greatest resource, families.
By U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton
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