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Air Force resolves Yellow Ribbon travel funding issue

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Air Force leaders have resolved a situation that temporarily limited how many guests the service could fund to accompany Reserve Citizen Airmen to Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program training weekends.

“I'm delighted we are going back to the way we've always done it," said Mary Hill, Yellow Ribbon program manager at Air Force Reserve Command headquarters, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.

Yellow Ribbon promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments through a series of weekend training sessions around the country. 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.

The Joint Travel Regulations that govern military travel designate that a service will provide transportation and food allowance for a Reserve Citizen Airman and up to two guests – called “designated individuals” – to attend Yellow Ribbon training. The law governing Yellow Ribbon, though, encourages wide family member participation. In the past, Hill said, “designated individuals” was considered a separate category of traveler allowed by law – for example, close friends of an unmarried reservist – and has always been limited to two.

Last November, Air Force travel pay professionals brought the discrepancy to the attention of the AFRC Yellow Ribbon office by rejecting reimbursement of expenses submitted for more than two guests. Air Force Reserve leaders directed Yellow Ribbon to comply with this interpretation of the JTR for events through fiscal 2017 while they pursued a waiver to allow all DEERS-eligible children and one other guest to attend, as had been done in the past. The Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System is a computerized database of military sponsors, families and others worldwide who are entitled under the law to TRICARE benefits.

“We have always used DEERS to determine the children a member was able to bring to an event,” Hill said. “If they are eligible for DEERS enrollment they would be included as eligible to attend with their military member.”

Jeffrey R. Mayo, deputy assistant secretary for Air Force manpower and reserve affairs at the Pentagon, has authorized Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller, chief of Air Force Reserve and commander of Air Force Reserve Command, to approve more than two designated individuals to attend Yellow Ribbon events with pre- and post-deployers. He did so in his role as the Air Force's Per Diem Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee principal.

Hill said she thinks Mayo’s decision will immediately increase the amount of attendees at events, which typically draw overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants.

“We didn't like it any more than they did and are glad we have a solution before our first event of the new fiscal year," Hill said. "We want everyone in the immediate family of a reservist preparing to deploy or returning from a deployment to attend this training. Those family members are the primary purpose of Yellow Ribbon.”

On any given day, nearly 6,000 Air Force Reservists are serving on active duty worldwide in support of combatant commanders and other agencies and major commands. Each year, the Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon program trains 7,000 reservists and those closest to them in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more at the weekend training events.

AFRC continues to meet the needs of our Reserve Citizen Airmen and their families through the Yellow Ribbon Program and has announced dates and locations of Yellow Ribbon training in November and December. Due to security concerns, the Reserve doesn't share this information online. Deploying reservists should contact their unit Yellow Ribbon representative for specific details.