USA — Commander Lauds Guard, Reserve Reintegration Program

HOUSTON — A few months ago, the com­man­der of the 72nd Infantry Brigade Com­bat Team called about a dozen of his sol­diers out of the swel­ter­ing 100-plus degree Bagh­dad heat and into his office on Camp Pros­per­i­ty.

Army Col. Mark Campsey had been deployed in Iraq for near­ly a year — along with about 3,000 Texas Army Nation­al Guard sol­diers under his com­mand — and was pleased with how his cit­i­zen-sol­diers had per­formed. His sol­diers had pro­vid­ed force pro­tec­tion and con­voy secu­ri­ty and sup­port­ed deten­tion cen­ters in and around the city. 

But their time in Iraq was draw­ing to a close, and Campsey’s thoughts were begin­ning to turn to their home­com­ing, and how well his sol­diers would adapt to civil­ian life after the day-to-day rig­ors of war. 

The com­man­der asked the 12 sol­diers stand­ing before him -– a cross-sec­tion of men and women, mar­ried and sin­gle — if any of them had attend­ed a brigade Yel­low Rib­bon Rein­te­gra­tion Pro­gram event before deploy­ment. The program’s aim is to teach Guard and Reserve sol­diers how to bet­ter rein­te­grate with their fam­i­lies, friends and com­mu­ni­ties through events held before, dur­ing and after deployment. 

Only two of the 12 raised a hand. The oth­ers cit­ed child care issues, and some claimed a lack of rel­e­vance, since Yel­low Rib­bon only applied to mar­ried couples.

“They basi­cal­ly had a lot of false assump­tions about a pro­gram that’s very ben­e­fi­cial for all,” Campsey said. 

That day in Iraq, the com­man­der made the Yel­low Rib­bon pro­gram, which had been vol­un­tary up to that point, into a require­ment for all of his soldiers. 

Fast-for­ward about four months, and Campsey is stand­ing at the front of a vast hotel con­fer­ence room here, sur­round­ed by about 1,800 brigade sol­diers and fam­i­ly mem­bers at Texas’ largest Yel­low Rib­bon Pro­gram event to date. 

“Yel­low Rib­bon has a tremen­dous capac­i­ty to reach peo­ple, but you have to get them there first,” he said. “The sys­tem needs to get com­man­ders to under­stand the program’s impor­tance, and then those car­ry­ing it out have to offer a qual­i­ty prod­uct. We’re tak­ing anoth­er week­end out of their time.” 

Campsey’s brigade is the first in Texas to cycle through the entire Yel­low Rib­bon pro­gram. While the Defense Depart­ment gives ser­vices the lat­i­tude to cus­tomize pro­grams, each branch is required to offer events before, dur­ing and after deploy­ment: one at the alert phase, one dur­ing the deploy­ment, and post-deploy­ment at 30, 60 and 90 days after return. 

The sol­diers here were at their 60-day event, which typ­i­cal­ly puts a heavy empha­sis on com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and resources to help ser­vice­mem­bers suc­cess­ful­ly tran­si­tion back to work and their fam­i­lies. It also serves as a reunion of sorts. 

As soon as they hit U.S. soil in late sum­mer, the Guards­men head­ed home to their fam­i­lies and to their civil­ian jobs. While their mis­sion often brings them togeth­er –- the unit is nick­named the Hur­ri­cane Brigade for its fre­quent response to nat­ur­al dis­as­ters along the Texas coast -– for the most part they keep in con­tact by Face­book or Twit­ter. Events like this offer the sol­diers a chance to reunite face-to-face with bat­tle bud­dies and to intro­duce spous­es to friend­ships forged downrange. 

After a few words and a quick pro­mo­tion cer­e­mo­ny up front, Campsey drift­ed around the cav­ernous con­fer­ence room, stop­ping to greet his sol­diers and their fam­i­lies, who were lean­ing in close to hear each oth­er as a rock song blar­ing from sky-high speak­ers drowned out their words. 

The com­man­der said he’d pre­fer small­er venues. It’s his belief that if you need a micro­phone, the venue is too large. And here, peo­ple in the back were hard-pressed to hear the speak­er, a resilience team offi­cer who was explain­ing how per­son­al­i­ty types can either help or hin­der relationships. 

The speak­er likened per­son­al­i­ties to col­ors, and red, yel­low, blue and green bal­loons popped up around the room to draw peo­ple of the same type togeth­er for group discussions.

It’s a chal­lenge to car­ry these events off in such a large state, Campsey acknowl­edged, and state pro­gram coor­di­na­tors are doing their best to accom­mo­date a surge of return­ing soldiers. 

“It’s the right pro­gram, but as mon­ey starts to shrink, we can’t go back­wards,” he said. “We need to go for­ward, need to have more struc­ture and surge capac­i­ty. It’s built for the small­est exe­cu­tion, but we need three times that when a brigade redeploys.” 

Campsey also urges state pro­gram coor­di­na­tors to steer clear of cook­ie-cut­ter pro­grams. Sol­diers will tune out if the infor­ma­tion does­n’t apply to them, he not­ed. He cit­ed post-trau­mat­ic stress as an exam­ple. Less than three dozen of his sol­diers were exposed to an event that most peo­ple would con­sid­er trau­mat­ic, he said, so devot­ing con­sid­er­able time to that top­ic would­n’t be as use­ful as focus­ing on anoth­er top­ic of con­cern, such as employment. 

“If the pre­sen­ta­tion does­n’t apply, then are we pro­vid­ing a ser­vice or check­ing a block?” he asked. 

Chal­lenges aside, Campsey is an enthu­si­as­tic advo­cate of the pro­gram. Pri­or to Yel­low Rib­bon, his sol­diers had returned from a deploy­ment and scat­tered through­out the mas­sive state, away from the mil­i­tary sup­port they had grown used to over a course of a year. And unlike active-duty sol­diers, who have resources at their fin­ger­tips back home, Guard and Reserve sol­diers not only are dis­tanced from resources, but many are unaware they even exist. 

“There’s prob­a­bly not 150 square miles that does­n’t have a sol­dier in it in Texas,” Campsey said. “Try­ing to get all of them to a loca­tion was­n’t fea­si­ble or suit­able before. Now they have start­ed fund­ing it, sol­diers have a chance to get information.” 

Fam­i­lies do as well, and the impor­tance of their inclu­sion isn’t lost on Campsey. 

“If you try and brief sol­diers as they’re head­ing out, their minds will be on the mis­sion and where they’re going, and if you brief them when they get home, they’re think­ing about their fam­i­ly,” he said. “But if you bring the fam­i­ly in, they will ask 1 mil­lion ques­tions about health care.” 

The ben­e­fits extend far beyond health insur­ance, Campsey added. A sol­dier may not talk to his wife, but will talk to his bud­dies while the spouse is sit­ting there. As a result, she’s able to hear about expe­ri­ences she might not oth­er­wise, and also gets to meet oth­er spous­es and com­pare notes, he said. 

Their pres­ence also car­ries a less vis­i­ble impor­tance, he not­ed. Fam­i­ly sup­port is absolute­ly vital dur­ing deployment. 

“We have to retain fam­i­lies, not sol­diers,” the colonel said. “We can’t do this with­out their support.” 

Look­ing ahead, Campsey said, he hopes to con­tin­ue to cus­tomize his brigade’s Yel­low Rib­bon events. This event, for instance, includ­ed a sep­a­rate track for sin­gle sol­diers to address their spe­cif­ic needs. 

“The gov­ern­ment has giv­en us a mech­a­nism to take care of peo­ple; we now have to struc­ture it so we get the best val­ue out of it,” he said. 

The time is right for Yel­low Rib­bon, he added. 

“We spend two years prepar­ing a sol­dier to go to war, and we’re just now invest­ing two week­ends on prepar­ing them for the rest of their lives with their fam­i­lies,” he said. “This is a step in the right direction.” 

For more on the Yel­low Rib­bon pro­gram or to locate an event, vis­it

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

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