Yellow Ribbon program offers pre- and post-deployment help to Airmen, families

  • Published
  • By Capt. Elizabeth Caraway
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Whether an Airman is preparing to deploy in a few months or just returning home, the Air Force Reserve Command Yellow Ribbon program offers resiliency and reintegration programs to help ease the transition.

Forty-three members of the 445th Airlift Wing and 50 family members have participated in Yellow Ribbon 3-day events this year.

Initiated by the Secretary of Defense and mandated by Congress in 2008, the Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Program is a series of events designed to provide members and families with essential resources prior to departure, a level of stability and support while deployed, and successful reintegration techniques after the deployment cycle ends.

"I was thoroughly impressed with the focused attention on the relationship between the member and the family. Separation is hard and causes family problems many times," said Col. Michael Major, 445th AW vice commander, who attended two events following a deployment to Afghanistan. "The YR staff worked really hard to give me and every family quality downtime together but also offered many opportunities in the seminar setting to reconnect and learn about ourselves and also our loved ones."

Structured as retreats, many of the East Coast events are held in Orlando, Florida. Participants fly in Friday, register, and get settled. On Saturday, they can eat breakfast then drop their children (ages 0-17) off in age-divided childcare rooms.

The children are presented structured activities and games while the Airmen and adult family members attend presentations and discussion groups. Sunday offers forums and discussion groups until noon, when guests depart. The conference meetings cover a huge array of topics from finances and education benefits to relationships and stress management. For busy Reservists who might only drill one weekend a month, having representatives from numerous agencies all in one place is a huge timesaver.

Senior Airman Thomas Reid, Jr., 445th Aerial Port Squadron, attended both pre- and post-deployment events in Florida around his 6-month deployment to Kuwait. Reid said the program is an "invaluable resource" because it presents all the available services and benefits.

"[The program] is another example of the Wingman concept and the commitment made to support fellow Airmen.  There is a wealth of information available that many members may not realize is available to them. I've personally learned from each event and have been able to share information to with those who have served and are unable to attend the events," he said.

Major agreed, "As a supervisor, I was most impressed with the wide range of organizations ready and willing to help families and members do anything from learning coping skills and positive behaviors to getting assistance with PTSD, VA, and Tricare issues plus so much more. Both events we attended were first-rate, from sign-in to departure. It is all about ensuring our Airmen have all the tools they need to ensure their family endures."

Reid also cites another benefit of the program.

"The events allow for deployers to reconnect with those that they served with from other bases and units," he said.

Master Sgt. Sandi Golden-Vest, the 445th Airlift Wing and 434th Air Refueling Wing Yellow Ribbon Representative, is a natural fit for the position. A veteran with five deployments under her belt, when the position came open, she nearly turned it down. Her spouse gave her perspective though.

"He said, 'Do you know how much I would have appreciated something like that when you deployed? How much it would have helped? You have to do this. You have to help others and make it a success,'" said Golden-Vest.

Golden-Vest, a mother of four, had a six-month-old baby the first time she deployed.

"At the time, I had my one phone call a week home and that was it," she said. "I was ignorant and didn't know about what resources were available and my husband didn't get a lot of help while I was gone. Things are different now and Yellow Ribbon events are awesome learning experiences for the Airmen and families."

The benefits to the spouses, parents, and children who attend are numerous.

"My wife and daughter greatly appreciated the communication seminars and self improvement opportunities offered. I think too they enjoyed feeling like they had not ever really been alone during my deployment. My daughter said it best: they don't even know me but know a lot of what I went through," said Major. "They helped me learn about myself, my family relationship and showed me how much they cared."

Both Major and Reid were quick to endorse the events.

"I have deployed many times for long durations in my 28 years of service thus far. I can honestly say these 2 weekends were the best events my family and I have been a part of in those 28 years--for our family and for ourselves. We have grown stronger individually and together because of what we experienced," said Major.

To be eligible to attend Yellow Ribbon events, members must be on active-duty orders for 90 days or more in support of a deployment and be separated from their family. Reservists can attend up to three events - one pre-deployment event (within 120 days of deployment) and two post-deployment events (within 180 days of returning) - and can bring three guests (or one guest and all Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System-eligible children). For each event, the reservist is placed on orders and travel costs--including hotel and airfare--for guests are covered. Additionally, travel dates are flexible, allowing families to spend time together, at their own expense, before or after the events.