USA — General Provides Yellow Ribbon Program Perspective

SAN JUAN, Puer­to Rico, Nov. 1, 2010 — Open­ing his address here to spous­es of troops recent­ly returned from Iraq, Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, the Army Reserve’s top-rank­ing offi­cer, made an unex­pect­ed plea to what he rec­og­nizes as the best-qual­i­fied group to spot post-deploy­ment prob­lems ear­ly: “I need your help.”

As the 1st Mis­sion Sup­port Com­mand host­ed a Yel­low Rib­bon Rein­te­gra­tion Pro­gram week­end for about 160 reservists and their fam­i­lies, Stultz called on spous­es to encour­age their loves ones who need it to take advan­tage of ser­vices avail­able to help them read­just from com­bat deploy­ments.

“My sol­diers are very, very, very proud,” Stultz told spous­es of the 166th and 210th Region­al Sup­port Groups’ head­quar­ters and head­quar­ters detach­ments and the Rear Oper­a­tions Cen­ter Detach­ment, all units that returned home to Puer­to Rico with­in the past two months after year-long deploy­ments in Iraq.

“Their pride gets in the way of them ask­ing for help, because they think they are sup­posed to be strong,” Stultz said. “We teach them ‘Mis­sion first.’ We teach them ‘We will not quit.’ So they think ask­ing for help is a fail­ure. But a lot of our sol­diers need help.

“I need you to help me con­vince your sol­diers, if they need coun­sel­ing, if they need help, it’s OK,” he added. “It’s not a weak­ness.”

The entire Army – and the mil­i­tary as a whole – is strug­gling to take the stig­ma out of get­ting help, the gen­er­al said, but iden­ti­fy­ing troops in need and get­ting them to men­tal health care is par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing in the reserve com­po­nents.

Active-duty troops take block leave after rede­ploy­ing, he explained, then begin train­ing again togeth­er with their com­bat bat­tle bud­dies who are like­ly to pick up quick­ly on tell­tale signs of dis­tress. In con­trast, he said, reservists and Nation­al Guards­men dis­perse to their sep­a­rate civil­ian com­mu­ni­ties, where it’s eas­i­er to keep their prob­lems under wraps.

“My chal­lenge is, now that your sol­diers are home, I only see them two days a month,” Stultz told the spous­es. “A lot of the times, I don’t know what’s going on in their lives the oth­er 28 days. But you do. So I need your help.”

Speak­ing to fam­i­ly mem­bers in a hotel con­fer­ence room as their sol­diers attend­ed anoth­er ses­sion, Stultz empha­sized that there’s no shame in reach­ing out for help – to a fel­low sol­dier, a spouse or a men­tal health pro­fes­sion­al.

“We — all of us — have some kind of post-trau­mat­ic stress,” he said. “Notice I didn’t call it ‘dis­or­der.’ I just said ‘post-trau­mat­ic stress.’

“The sol­diers in the oth­er room and you here in this room have been through a stress­ful expe­ri­ence, and it affects us in dif­fer­ent ways,” he con­tin­ued. “It depends on what degree of stress we expe­ri­ence and it depends on how we han­dle it.”

Attend­ing the first of three Yel­low Rib­bon events for the sol­diers and their fam­i­lies after their rede­ploy­ment, Stultz knew he was deliv­er­ing his mes­sage at a par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal time.

“What we find very often is that, when the sol­dier first comes home, the adren­a­line is flow­ing,” he said dur­ing an inter­view with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice. “There’s excite­ment of being home, back with the wife, back with the kids, back in the com­mu­ni­ty. They don’t know they are hurt­ing.

“Now is when that adren­a­line is wear­ing off,” he said. “Now is when they start think­ing, ‘Wow, things are get­ting back to nor­mal, and nor­mal doesn’t feel nor­mal.’ ”

That’s why the Yel­low Rib­bon Rein­te­gra­tion Pro­gram – a ser­vicewide ini­tia­tive for reserve-com­po­nent mem­bers and their fam­i­lies – sched­ules the first post-deploy­ment events 30 days after rede­ploy­ment. The full pro­gram includes events through­out the deploy­ment cycle, begin­ning at the alert phase, dur­ing the deploy­ment, then at 30, 60 and 90 days after rede­ploy­ment.

“I think the impor­tance of the Yel­low Rib­bon pro­gram is to make sure that on the front end of deploy­ment, we are prop­er­ly prepar­ing the sol­dier and the fam­i­ly for every­thing they need to think about while their sol­dier will be gone,” Stultz said. “And then on the back end, it’s mak­ing sure we are doing every­thing to rein­te­grate that sol­dier and fam­i­ly and make them aware of all the resources that are avail­able — not just imme­di­ate­ly after deploy­ment, but for the long term.”

Over the week­end, the reserve sol­diers and fam­i­lies gath­ered at San Juan’s beach­front Inter­con­ti­nen­tal Hotel for their 30-day post-deploy­ment event, where offi­cials hoped they would pick up skills to help the sol­diers rein­te­grate with their fam­i­lies, civil­ian jobs and com­mu­ni­ties.

Reservists receive drill cred­it to attend the manda­to­ry ses­sion, and the Army Reserve picks up the cost of trav­el, lodg­ing and meals for the sol­diers and their fam­i­lies.

Although he’s heard some peo­ple sug­gest that the ses­sions be con­duct­ed on a mil­i­tary instal­la­tion to save mon­ey, Stultz said, the invit­ing venues make fam­i­lies want to par­tic­i­pate and help to make the pro­gram so suc­cess­ful.

“You can’t do it on the cheap,” he said. “You have to pick a place where sol­diers and their fam­i­lies will want to go. You want a nice area where they can enjoy them­selves, relax and spend time with their bud­dies and their fam­i­ly and lis­ten to what we have to say.”

Sim­i­lar­ly, Stultz insist­ed that any sol­dier who cross-trained into a unit for deploy­ment must go through the Yel­low Rib­bon pro­gram with that same unit. The Army Reserve paid to fly sev­er­al sol­diers and their fam­i­lies to Puer­to Rico to par­tic­i­pate in the weekend’s events.

“Some peo­ple say they should be able to do Yel­low Rib­bon clos­er to their homes, but I take the oppo­site approach,” Stultz said. “I say if they deployed as a unit, we want them to come home as a unit and go through Yel­low Rib­bon as a unit. I want the sol­diers to be able to look them­selves in the eye and talk about what they have expe­ri­enced as a group, what they are feel­ing as a group. Then they can go back.”

Stultz said he believes sol­diers who served togeth­er dur­ing a deploy­ment are far more like­ly to rec­og­nize when some­one is expe­ri­enc­ing prob­lems.

“If I go back to a Yel­low Rib­bon event with­in my local town, and peo­ple may not know who I am, I say sit over there and remain qui­et and they’ll say, ‘What’s up with him? Maybe he’s just a qui­et guy,’ then check the block that I have done Yel­low Rib­bon,” he said.

“On the oth­er hand, if I go back with my unit and I am sit­ting over in the cor­ner, they are going to ask ‘What’s wrong?’ ” Stultz said. “Some­body may remem­ber that when he was deployed, he had a lit­tle prob­lem with his wife. Some­body may say, ‘We need to talk to him.’ ”

Army Mas­ter Sgt. Rod­ney Pear­son, a drill sergeant from Foun­tain Inn, S.C., who cross-lev­eled into the 210th RSC for the deploy­ment, said it felt great to reunite with his bat­tle bud­dies for the Yel­low Rib­bon pro­gram as he and his fam­i­ly enjoyed a week­end in Puer­to Rico.

“From Day One, they pret­ty much adopt­ed me as their broth­er in arms,” he said of the 1st MSC sol­diers. “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 fam­i­ly reunion.”

When Pear­son and his fel­low reservists weren’t catch­ing up with each oth­er dur­ing the week­end ses­sion, they were pick­ing up lit­er­a­ture about ben­e­fits and ser­vices through fed­er­al and state gov­ern­ments, talk­ing with civil­ian recruiters seek­ing job appli­cants or attend­ing sem­i­nars on top­ics rang­ing from rela­tion­ship-build­ing to finan­cial man­age­ment. Spe­cial ses­sions for spous­es focused on how to help their loved ones readapt and rec­og­nize symp­toms and char­ac­ter­is­tics that might sig­nal a big­ger issue, and on ser­vices for fam­i­lies that need addi­tion­al sup­port.

As the Defense Depart­ment seeks ways to improve effi­cien­cies, Stultz said, he feels con­fi­dent the Yel­low Rib­bon Rein­te­gra­tion Pro­gram, and oth­er ini­tia­tives to sup­port ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, will endure.

“Obvi­ous­ly, we will have to make sure it is fund­ed, but it is very easy for me to defend this,” he said. “It will save us in the long run from oth­er prob­lems we will have if we don’t do it — sol­diers we will lose and have to replace, behav­ioral issues, oth­er prob­lems.

“Pre­ven­tion always saves in the long run,” he said.

Bar­bara Rodriguez, wife of Army Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Ariel Feli­ciano, the 1st MSC’s first sergeant, said Stultz’ pres­ence at the command’s Yel­low Rib­bon event spoke vol­umes.

“This demon­strates the empha­sis the lead­er­ship puts on this pro­gram,” she said. “It shows respect and val­i­dates the impor­tance of these sol­diers and their fam­i­lies.

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

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter