USA — Program Fills Gap for Returning Guard, Reserve

WASHINGTON — Though the Yel­low Rib­bon Rein­te­gra­tion Pro­gram has eased the post-deploy­ment process for thou­sands of Guard and Reserve mem­bers and their fam­i­lies over the past two years, offi­cials are hop­ing thou­sands more take advan­tage of the Defense Depart­ment pro­gram in the com­ing months, the program’s exec­u­tive direc­tor said.

“Anec­do­tal­ly, we know we’re under 20 per­cent par­tic­i­pa­tion,” Glenn F. Welling Jr. said in an inter­view with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice. “That’s a shame. There’s a cost to this pro­gram, but that pales in com­par­i­son to the cost of a bro­ken home, failed employ­ment expe­ri­ence, a sui­cide — all of those things.”

The Defense Depart­ment launched the pro­gram in 2008 to ensure reserve-com­po­nent ser­vice­mem­bers have access to the infor­ma­tion and resources they need to rein­te­grate with their fam­i­lies, their com­mu­ni­ties and their employ­ers effec­tive­ly, Welling said. A need for a cus­tomized ser­vice became appar­ent as increased num­bers of Guard and Reserve mem­bers were deployed over­seas after 9/11, he said.

Over the past decade, more than 787,000 reserve-com­po­nent ser­vice­mem­bers have been called to duty, and more than 100,000 are deployed or on active duty orders on any giv­en day. But unlike their active-duty coun­ter­parts who return to the exten­sive sup­port of an instal­la­tion after deploy­ment, Guard and Reserve mem­bers return to com­mu­ni­ties that may not under­stand the depth of their expe­ri­ence and to fam­i­lies that may be unfa­mil­iar with mil­i­tary demands, Welling explained.

Yel­low Rib­bon helps to ensure geo­graph­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion from the mil­i­tary doesn’t equate to emo­tion­al or social iso­la­tion, he said.

To reach every ser­vice­mem­ber regard­less of dis­tance, Yel­low Rib­bon coor­di­na­tors spon­sor Yel­low Rib­bon events across the nation and U.S. ter­ri­to­ries, with more than 500 sched­uled to take place in the first half of fis­cal 2011, Welling said. The Texas Nation­al Guard, for instance, held its largest event to date this week­end in Hous­ton, with about 1,800 sol­diers of the 72nd Infantry Brigade Com­bat Team and their fam­i­lies in atten­dance.

In fis­cal 2011, about 2,000 Yel­low Rib­bon events are pro­ject­ed to take place, he said.

DOD has over­sight of the pro­gram, but each ser­vice has the lat­i­tude to tai­lor the pro­gram to suit ser­vice-spe­cif­ic resources and needs. All are required to offer events before, dur­ing and after deploy­ment: one at the alert phase, one dur­ing the deploy­ment, and three post-deploy­ment at 30, 60 and 90 days out. A core DOD cur­ricu­lum ensures that all fam­i­lies receive the same basic infor­ma­tion wher­ev­er they’re locat­ed.

Pre­de­ploy­ment events, which fam­i­ly mem­bers are strong­ly encour­aged to attend, set the stage for a suc­cess­ful deploy­ment expe­ri­ence, Welling said, and include top­ics such as finan­cial man­age­ment, stress and anger man­age­ment, sui­cide pre­ven­tion, health ben­e­fits, pow­ers of attor­ney and wills. These events also cov­er re-employ­ment rights under the Uni­formed Ser­vices Employ­ment and Reem­ploy­ment Rights Act.

“The more we’re able to do up front, the more suc­cess­ful we are prepar­ing peo­ple, the greater the like­li­hood of a suc­cess­ful rein­te­gra­tion on the back end,” he said.

Events held dur­ing deploy­ments focus on pro­vid­ing fam­i­ly mem­bers -– whether spouse, par­ents, grand­par­ents, room­mates or best friends -– with a sup­port net­work, and on lay­ing the ground­work for a suc­cess­ful rein­te­gra­tion. These events also give fam­i­lies a plat­form to dis­cuss shared expe­ri­ences and chal­lenges, Welling said.

Rein­te­gra­tion takes cen­ter stage at the 30- and 60-day post-deploy­ment events. Ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies work on com­mu­ni­ca­tion, rela­tion­ships and how to ensure a smooth tran­si­tion back to civil­ian com­mu­ni­ties and jobs. Most Army Reserve Yel­low Rib­bon events, for exam­ple, fea­ture a “Com­ing Home” ses­sion that focus­es on com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, includ­ing ways to adjust to a civil­ian “lan­guage” that may, after a year, sound for­eign.

Ser­vice­mem­bers must be mis­sion ori­ent­ed while in uni­form, but the same dri­ven, mis­sion focus that makes them so suc­cess­ful in the bat­tle­field doesn’t always trans­late to their civil­ian career field, explained Army Lt. Col. Cyn­thia Ras­mussen, psy­cho­log­i­cal direc­tor for the Army Reserve’s 88th Region­al Sup­port Com­mand and a Yel­low Rib­bon pre­sen­ter.

“They may go to their job and get coun­seled for being curt with the peo­ple they work with, or go home and get in an argu­ment over the way they speak to their spouse or kids,” she said. “We have ses­sions that teach them the com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills they need to be suc­cess­ful.”

The 90-day event is geared for ser­vice­mem­bers, and is pri­mar­i­ly intend­ed to ensure they com­plete the post-deploy­ment health reassess­ment. As the final event, it “offers the last for­mal pulse check on a servicemember’s phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al health pri­or to being re-assim­i­lat­ed back to the mil­i­tary, com­mu­ni­ty and to life in gen­er­al,” Welling said.

Many events offer child care, as well as a youth pro­gram that teach­es rein­te­gra­tion skills through age-appro­pri­ate activ­i­ties, such as jour­nal­ing or art. “We’re not just pro­vid­ing a babysit­ting ser­vice, but we’re engag­ing those kids,” he said.

Chap­lains and mil­i­tary fam­i­ly life con­sul­tants typ­i­cal­ly are present to guide dis­cus­sions and to offer an ear to a ser­vice­mem­ber or fam­i­ly mem­ber look­ing to unload.

“The deploy­ment expe­ri­ence will change you, and it will change your fam­i­ly, your loved ones,” Welling said. “It’s a big deal. But when pre­pared for cor­rect­ly, the major­i­ty of stres­sors can be man­aged in such a way that new­found con­fi­dence skills, the abil­i­ty to react under stress and pres­sure, can be very pos­i­tive traits.”

Among future efforts, Welling said, the Yel­low Rib­bon pro­gram will put a greater empha­sis on job cre­ation and employ­er sup­port, work­ing hand in hand with Employ­er Sup­port of the Guard and Reserve, a DOD orga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes coop­er­a­tion and under­stand­ing between reserve-com­po­nent mem­bers and their civil­ian employ­ers.

In today’s econ­o­my, job con­cerns are com­mon, he said. A sol­dier who worked in con­struc­tion when he deployed may not find work upon his return. But this same sol­dier also has a tremen­dous abil­i­ty to lead and make sol­id deci­sions, and is reli­able, smart and drug-free — “all of those things that make our Guard and Reserve such great employ­ees,” Welling said. Future events will put an empha­sis on includ­ing poten­tial employ­ers and spot­light­ing job pre­pared­ness.

Mean­while, Welling said, he hopes more peo­ple will be encour­aged to attend Yel­low Rib­bon events. While ser­vices are required to offer events, they’re not required to make them manda­to­ry. That dis­cre­tion is left to indi­vid­ual units and com­man­ders.

“We have a buy-in at the high­est lev­els,” he said. “But the unit-lev­el lead­er­ship needs to hear about the val­ue of this pro­gram. There’s always a com­pe­ti­tion for people’s time, but this is an invest­ment — an invest­ment in their peo­ple that will reap sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits for them, their sol­diers and their com­mand.”

The feed­back from par­tic­i­pants speaks vol­umes as to the ben­e­fits, Welling said.

“It’s pow­er­ful to go to an event and hear the tes­ti­mo­ni­als and see how people’s lives are being changed,” he said. “Many said they didn’t want to come, but leave say­ing they need to tell their friends they need to go.

“Peo­ple have told me that this is the best thing the reserves have ever done,” he added. “Peo­ple have told me that if we would have had this before, they wouldn’t be divorced, or hav­ing issues. Those are pow­er­ful state­ments, and very reward­ing for me to hear.”

For more on this pro­gram or to locate a Yel­low Rib­bon event, vis­it

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

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