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Yellow Ribbon doubles down on security

Air Force Reservist Master Sgt. Shawn Janowski of the 315th Security Forces Squadron, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, interacts with Jaimie Kwasegroch, youth program director, while providing security during the U.S. Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina May 22, 2016. The Yellow Ribbon Program promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. (U.S Air Force photo/Master Sgt. James Branch)

Air Force Reservist Master Sgt. Shawn Janowski of the 315th Security Forces Squadron, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, interacts with Jaimie Kwasegroch, youth program director, while providing security during the U.S. Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina May 22, 2016. The Yellow Ribbon Program promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. (U.S Air Force photo/Master Sgt. James Branch)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC -- Armed local law enforcement officers are teaming with Air Force Reserve security forces at Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program events.

The Reserve added the extra level of security starting in December 2015, prompted in part by the fatal shootings five months earlier at a Chattanooga, Tennessee, military recruiting center.

It was most recently demonstrated at training events May 20-22 here and in the Dallas metro area.

Officers from a local police department or security company are now contracted for each event, in which pre- or post-deployment reservists and their loved ones receive information to help them deal with the stress of separation caused by military duty.

Knowing an armed, local police officer is present brings extra peace of mind, said

Lt. Col. Donice Wright, the Yellow Ribbon operations officer from Air Force Reserve headquarters at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.

Since Yellow Ribbon began in 2008, security forces professionals from the closest reserve unit generally provided security at training weekends.

Tech. Sgt. Steven Smith, security forces coordinator for the Myrtle Beach event, said a security team rotates through the event with the exception of a children’s area, where there is a permanent presence. That isn’t changing.

[They] are trained, experienced and vigilant so families attending the events can relax and focus on learning and getting the resources they need to handle an upcoming deployment or recuperate from a completed one, Wright said.

Myrtle Beach police officer Randy Miller said local law enforcement officers can summon help faster than visiting Air Force team members can.

“If someone fell down and started having a seizure the security forces would have to call 911 and wait, whereas I can have an ambulance here in minutes,” Miller said. “In the same respect, if someone walks in here with a gun, the police station is very close. I can push a button and have guys here right away.”

Many of the Citizen Airmen security forces members who cover Yellow Ribbon events are police officers as civilians. That’s the case for Master Sgt. Shawn Janowski, who is assigned to the 315th Security Forces Squadron at Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina, and a law enforcement officer for the Charleston Police Department. At the Myrtle Beach event, he was part of the Yellow Ribbon security forces response element.

“When we deploy, we get briefings so we know what the threats are where we’re going. We know what we’re up against,” said Janowski. “Here in Myrtle Beach we don’t really know the area, but Randy does. He knows the area and he knows the threats.”

Sometimes the uniform is enough to deter threats, Miller said.

“I think the presence of a uniformed officer keeps people a little safer, making you think twice about doing something bad,” he said. “At the very least it makes people feel safer.”

Wright, the Yellow Ribbon operations officer, said as a parent she would want to know that her children, who are entrusted to care providers in another area of the conference center during these weekend training sessions, have someone skilled protecting them.

Having that presence helps everyone relax, Janoswki said.

“As a military member you’re always on guard and vigilant, especially when your family’s around,” he said. “I think having us here helps the other members relax and do what they’re here to do.”

Yellow Ribbon 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. Each year, Yellow Ribbon trains 7,000 Air Force reservists and their loved ones in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more.