ORLANDO, Fla. --
More than 350 Airmen and their loved ones traveled to the Sunshine State to attend an in-person Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon event July 23-24, 2021. It was the first large-audience, in-person event since pandemic prompted travel restrictions in March 2020.
The Yellow Ribbon Program 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.
Through much of the past 14 months, the Yellow Ribbon Program operated virtually, reaching its audience via online events.
“I’m proud of our team for the work they’ve put into making our virtual events successful,” said Mary Hill, the Yellow Ribbon Program Manager. “But we all know that getting together face-to-face is a far more effective method of connecting with one another, exchanging information and developing awareness for the many resources our Airmen and their loved ones need to have successful deployment.”
Master Sgt. Mike Stansbury from Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, could have attended a virtual event but preferred to wait for an in-person event because the face-to-face setting was a better option for his family.
"It's a nice event to get away and get your family out of the house after COVID,” Stansbury said.
While the coronavirus threat has regressed, it is still present, leading Yellow Ribbon Program leaders to operate with an abundance of caution. Attendees were not required to be vaccinated, but everyone involved in the event was required to wear a mask. Physical distancing, reduced room occupancy and extra sanitary procedures were implemented to further reduce the threat.
The cautious approach did not prevent Airmen and their loved ones from connecting with fellow deployers, Reserve leadership and subject-matter experts from a variety of agencies that specialize in helping service members with life’s challenges so they can focus on their military mission.
"I think it's very helpful," said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Rush, from Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio. "It helps my wife feel a lot more at ease that she can interact and ask questions. We live more than an hour away from Youngstown so she's not able to come to the base very often. It's nice to be able to do that here, plus get some time with the family."
The Yellow Ribbon Program is staying flexible and adapting to pandemic-related challenges as they evolve.
"Taking care of our Airmen is always the top priority, and at this point, we feel the best way to take care of them is by bringing them together as safely as is reasonable and connecting them with the resources they need to keep them and their families resilient," Hill said.
While most of the event’s attendee met in-person, five of them participated via live stream.
Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Jones, the public affairs manager for the Yellow Ribbon Program, said the pandemic taught the Yellow Ribbon team how to achieve their mission via virtual events and that going forward, a live-stream option would be available to those unable to attend in person.
“The benefits of attending in-person meetings cannot be understated because the interaction and networking provide so much value,” Jones said. “But if Airmen cannot attend an in-person event, then a live-stream event most certainly provides our Airmen more bang for the buck than missing out altogether.”
If leadership is comfortable with the safety measures practiced at this event, gathering for future in-person Yellow Ribbon events will continue. Attendees will be required to wear masks and practice other coronavirus-related safety measures if they choose to travel to these events.
The Yellow Ribbon Program will continue to connect Reserve Airmen and their loved ones with resources so they can prepare, weather and recover from deployments successfully, whether their audience is gathered in-person or viewing from the comfort of their home.