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Yellow Ribbon 'flicked on the light' for Reserve couple

Air Force Reserve Chaplain (Maj.) Joshua Kim (left) leads Tech. Sgt. Jesse Mateo and his wife, Michelle, in a Couples Enrichment Program activity May 22, at a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program training event near Dallas. Yellow Ribbon promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. Mateo, a reservist at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, attended one training weekend with Michelle prior to his 2015 deployment and two upon his return. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Candice Allen)

Air Force Reserve Chaplain (Maj.) Joshua Kim (left) leads Tech. Sgt. Jesse Mateo and his wife, Michelle, in a Couples Enrichment Program activity May 22, at a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program training event near Dallas. Yellow Ribbon promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. Mateo, a reservist at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, attended one training weekend with Michelle prior to his 2015 deployment and two upon his return. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Candice Allen)

DALLAS -- An Air Force Reserve couple said attending their first Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event “flicked on the light switch” for them in understanding how to better prepare for the separation caused by military deployment.

“In general, it’s knowing that these things are available to you,” said Tech Sgt. Jesse Mateo, a reservist assigned to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, who deployed in 2015. “You’re not in a dark room.”

Knowing the resources gave his family peace of mind during his absence, he said Saturday while attending his second post-deployment Yellow Ribbon event.

While he was in Southwest Asia, three typhoons were projected to hit Guam but his wife, Michelle, wasn't worried because she knew about help available to them. Though the typhoons never hit the island, it was the available resources that lessened her stress, she said.

“The one that got me the most was when I heard about assistance of care if I needed it,” she said of something she learned at her first Yellow Ribbon event. “Since we live on an island there were days where we would have a storm coming in and [we knew] we could call someone from the base and they could come and secure our home.”

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 training events around the nation. 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.

Deployers generally qualify to attend one training weekend with loved ones before they leave and two in a year upon their return. The Mateos participated in all three and said each was beneficial.

At last weekend’s event they attended the Couples Enrichment Program, a new Yellow Ribbon workshop, and said it helped them realize that they are still learning things about each other after 22 years of marriage and raising two children together. The sergeant said it was an excellent class and recommends that newlyweds attend it.

Before his deployment, Mateo and his family worked on their finances by visiting Military OneSource, a resource highlighted at these events.

“That helped set the guidance for what we needed to do as far as our finances go,” Mateo said. “Whatever I made in my civilian job wasn’t going to be there anymore [during deployment]. So, we were now relying on the military side.”

A session at an event they attended upon his return affirmed the financial plan they had put in place.

“It (was) validated when we took the finance section of one of the breakout sessions,” Mateo said.

The presenter used examples of actual people who were in similar financial situations, and ended up using that kind of resource to resolve the situations they were in – whether in deep debt or not, Mateo said. That particular session was very helpful, he said.

Each year, Yellow Ribbon trains 7,000 Air Force reservists and those closest to them in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more.