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Reserve welcomes Guard members to Yellow Ribbon training

ORLANDO, Fla -- After two decades in the Air Force, Master Sgt. Nicholas Barnhardt had yet to deploy overseas, and doing so was one of his goals. Before achieving that objective last year, though, the Florida Air National Guard meteorological technician and first sergeant attended Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program pre-deployment training with his wife.

“I wanted to make sure Michelle had as much info as possible to prepare her for my absence,” said Barnhardt, who is assigned to the 159th Weather Flight at Camp Blanding in Starke, southwest of Jacksonville. “Since this was my first deployment, it was a learning experience for both of us. I wanted to make sure we were set up for success.”

Yellow Ribbon promotes the well-being of Guard members, 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 part-time military members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their uniformed and civilian roles. GIs typically qualify to attend one Yellow Ribbon prior to deployment and two after returning home to help with their readjustment.

“It made me feel better prepared to deploy,” Barnhardt said while attending post-deployment Yellow Ribbon training hosted by the Air Force Reserve Feb. 27-28 in Orlando. He and other members of his unit were among 200 Guard members and their families who joined 500 people from the Air Force Reserve for the weekend event. Guard members sometimes attend Reserve Yellow Ribbon training weekends when they are more convenient for them than the Guard’s schedule is.

Maj. Gen. Michael Kim, mobilization augmentee to Lt. Gen. James Jackson in his role as commander of Air Force Reserve Command, was in Orlando and said he was glad the Reserve could support Guard members.

“We’re all Citizen Airmen,” Kim said. “We share the same lifestyle, trying to balance family, the Air Force and civilian jobs, so I’m glad that the Guard is here with us.”

Michelle Barnhardt said participating in the Yellow Ribbon event in Orlando helped her better prepare for her role as one of only two members of the Florida Air National Guard Key Spouse Program, which promotes partnerships with unit leadership, families, Airman & Family Readiness Centers, and other community and helping agencies. Key spouses help address needs of military families, especially supporting them during deployments.

A key spouse for one year, she said the event was great for networking with other families and resource providers, and that she will share information she received with other spouses from her husband’s unit.

“I like to keep track of those benefits and resources in case I can help somebody find what they need,” she said. “When people call and need information I try to seek it out immediately.”

Her husband said he takes it upon himself to share information with his unit as well, especially the new members.

“We recruited a lot of people recently,” Barnhardt said. “I’m looking forward to enlightening them.”

The weekend before the Orlando event, five Air National Guardsmen from Southern California joined 350 reservists and loved ones at Reserve Yellow Ribbon training in San Diego. The security forces’ members will deploy this spring from the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station at the Port Hueneme portion of Naval Base Ventura County.

"I got a lot of questions answered for me and my family,” said team leader Staff Sgt. Nicholas Morales, preparing for his sixth deployment. “There was a lot of information and resources that helped put my family at ease about me leaving.”

First-time deployer Senior Airman Evaristo Mares said the Yellow Ribbon event provided him and his wife with just the right amount of information.

"It wasn't too much. You could be a sponge (and) absorb it all,” he said. “There was a lot of good information for me and my spouse, especially contacts for her to get in touch with and to help stay in touch with me.”

Mares said he’s “not the least concerned” with this being his first deployment.

“I know I have good top cover,” he said. “We're a cohesive team, and we watch out for each other.”

The California Air National Guard sometimes sends its pre- or post-deployers to Reserve Yellow Ribbon events when it has 25 or fewer Airmen in need of the training, said Lera Masini, who coordinates Air National Guard Yellow Ribbon for the southern region of the state.

“I’ve gone myself, and it was enjoyable,” he said. “We usually don’t send our Airmen to another state. Our events keep them close to their base.”

(Ellen L. Hatfield of the 349th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Office at Travis Air Force Base, California, contributed to this report from San Diego)