Yellow Ribbon reveres military children
By Senior Airman Harrison Withrow
/ Published April 24, 2018
April is the month of the military child, as the Department of Defense shines a spotlight on the children of members of the armed forces.
“None of these children volunteered for the military life,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jackie Zawada, project manager for the Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. “None of them signed a contract agreeing to be constantly on the move or separated from their parents, but they still have to do it.”
Zawada and other Yellow Ribbon staffers honored children during a Yellow Ribbon event Sunday in Chicago, highlighting the unique challenges and situations faced by children of servicemembers that most families outside of the military may never have to face, such as frequently relocating or separation from a parent during deployments.
“We have to show them that we appreciate that, and we care,” Zawada said.
Yellow Ribbon celebrated the children of Reserve Citizen Airmen returning from deployment or about to deploy by holding a ceremony in which each child was thanked and presented with a certificate honoring their sacrifice. The children were also each given donated tablet computers to allow them to communicate digitally with their deployed parents.
Yellow Ribbon promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2018, it began 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.
Kiera Rowe and Kyra Rowe, two sisters whose mother recently returned from a deployment, spoke on how they felt before and during their mother's absence.
“When Mom is home, we always have fun, but when she had to leave, it made us sad,” said Kiera. She explained that this was their mother’s second deployment, but both were too young to remember the first.
“I was kind of scared when Mom was leaving,” said Kyra. “I didn’t really know what it was going to be like.”
Both siblings expressed how happy they were the day their mother returned, and while they hoped she wouldn’t leave again, they believe they are now better prepared if and when she did.
“Any child who has a parent that deploys goes through this,” said Zawada. “They’re good sports about it and they tough it out, but sometimes it might seem like nobody understands what they’re going through, so we have to let them know we’re here for them.”
In addition to providing emotional support, Yellow Ribbon also seeks to educate children and provide resources relating to their role in a deployment, similar to those given to military spouses.
“When the parents are getting ready to leave, a lot of children may not understand what that entails,” Zawada said. “When the parents come back, they may seem different or they may have changed in some ways and now they have to adjust to family life again. We’re preparing children for how to handle that. These kids are so strong and brave that it really is the least we can do to tell them, ‘Thank you for your courage.’”