Reserve Airmen, families attend Yellow Ribbon event

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Darrell Sydnor
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service reports naturalizing 700,000 to 750,000 new citizens each year.


With the hope of making their life and the lives of their families better than what they were, many families travel a great distance, learn a new language, and try to assimilate into a new culture.


Emigrating from Mexico, that’s exactly what little Cindy did decades ago when she was just 4 years old. With English as her second language, now Tech. Sgt. Cindy Valenzuela, an intelligence specialist for the 445th Operations Support Squadron, is a Reserve Citizen Airman with a family of her own.


Married with two children, she works hard to provide for her family, just like her parents did for her.


“Some things have been a struggle, but I’ve always tried to excel at anything that’s been presented to me. I’ve been knocked down a couple times, but hey I’m still plugging away and I’m still trying to better myself… I do it for our family.”


The language barrier wasn’t the only hurdle Sergeant Valenzuela had to overcome stepping out on her own. While grateful for the hard work her parents put into raising her, she went against family culture to become an American Airman. Not only was she the first to graduate, as she explains she holds a few more firsts in her family.


“I’m the first grandchild, only grandchild out of more than 20 that has joined the military. Coming from a Hispanic family, ‘You’re crazy for doing that, (joining the military)’ and now deploying, it’s definitely a first in our family.”


Though a first for her family, she’s very familiar with deployments. Her husband of almost 15 years, Master Sgt. Joseph Valenzuela, an aeromedical evacuation specialist with the 445th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, has deployed three times already, not to mention the numerous temporary duty assignments and schools, well before there was a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP).


Now at a Yellow Ribbon event with her husband and children in preparation for her deployment, Sergeant Valenzuela is thankful for the program.


“Reflecting back, this wasn’t really around when he first deployed. I was a first time mom in an overseas location and with no family support. I barely knew about any of these resources. I don’t think the message really gets out unless you’re in a certain situation like we are and you’re deploying. Back then it wasn’t available. This (Yellow Ribbon) a good avenue to help get the message out.”


The YRRP promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments.


It began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles. Each year, the Air Force Reserve program trains 7,000 reservists and those closest to them in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more.


Since the program events are hosted in places like Orlando Florida, the Valenzuela family has been able to spend some quality time together as they prepare for the deployment.


Thirteen-year-old Natalye has already made plans to be pen pals with her mom and can’t wait to ask her how her day was over Skype. She’s also ready to take on more responsibility at home.


“Helping out my dad because we have a farm, and helping my brother and be like ‘did you do this’ so my dad doesn’t have to get stressed out.” Nine-year-old Jonathan also plans to help more around the house, with the essence of one statement at everything he does, “I love my mom very much.”


The Yellow Ribbon event gave out a lot of resources and also brought out a lot of emotions. Master Sgt. Valenzuela teared up as he reflected at the event.


“One of the things I love about you the most, and it separates us from probably many couples, is every time I’m working on something, whether or not I need her help or ask for her help, she’s right there next to me helping me. Whether it’s reframing a lean-to to the barn, putting metal on the barn, cleaning horse poop, building, fencing, she’s always there, always there. That’s one of the things I cherish about our relationship, I love that about her, she’s always out there with me, side by side, every project.”


The YRRP event allowed for many connections during the breakout sessions. One facilitator Sergeant Valenzuela made a strong connection to is an emigrant from Guatemala; someone who shared the cultural struggles of assimilating to life in the U.S. and the military.


And after 30 years in the Air Force, Chief Master Sgt. Ericka Kelly, Command Chief for the Air Force Reserve Command, and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chief of the Air Force Reserve, has become a passionate supporter of what the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program can do.


“The Yellow Ribbon is that big body, big monster, that just grabs everyone, military member, family, children, friends, parents, and it connects all the dots. Because we all have a dot somewhere, we know something, and then when people come to the yellow ribbon those dots are connected, and then when people leave they get their ‘aha’ moment,” said Chief Kelly.


This article is part 2 of a 3-part series.