NAS FORT WORTH JRB, TEXAS --
More than 950 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coast Guard members and their families made history when they attended the country's first multi-service Yellow Ribbon Reintegration event at a Dallas-area hotel August 26 to 28.
The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program was initiated by Congress in 2008, and offers access to information, resources and benefits to National Guard and Reserve servicemembers and their families before, during and after deployments.
"Less than one percent of the American population wears a military uniform, so you are among heroes," said Army Maj. Gen. Charles Luckey, assistant to the chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff for Reserve matters, during opening ceremonies. "The wars we've been fighting have been on the shoulders of our armed forces and their families. This Yellow Ribbon event is how we take care of each other and prepare for the future because we don't know what is in store."
More than 800,000 Guard and Reserve members have been activated since 2001, and more than 92,000 are currently activated in support of military operations. The impact of ten years of war has leaders at all levels concerned about the effects on servicemembers and their families, particularly when it comes to topics like combat stress, financial management, employment and health care. The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program addresses these issues.
Naval Air Station Fort Worth JRB, Texas Joint Yellow Ribbon Council began planning and organizing this event almost two years ago, said Master Sgt. Thomas Blair, base Yellow Ribbon chairman. The council includes readiness officers from each military component at NAS Fort Worth JRB and is a network of all the available resources available to servicemembers and their families.
Yellow Ribbon events feature a range of resources for deployment cycle and reintegration support.
Resources include: Managing family finances during deployment; accessing veterans' benefits, including medical and G.I. Bill benefits; coping with combat stress; taking care of legal concerns; addressing substance abuse; finding employment and higher-education counseling; using anger management services; and identifying support services from the Red Cross, Military OneSource and other community organizations. This Yellow Ribbon event featured specialized workshops for children of all ages designed to grow resiliency and coping skills, and manage stress during deployment cycles.
"There is a wealth of information for families here," said Terri Norgren, mother of a Marine lieutenant on his first deployment in Afghanistan. She and her husband, Ron, drove more than six hours from Witchita, Kan., to educate themselves on the stress deployment can have on a servicemember and how they can be proactive in the reintegration process. "We are going to be ready when he comes home."
The Norgrens are proud parents who wore matching shirts with a picture of their son with a caption, "My Marine has your back." Like other attendees, the Norgrens moved from conference room to conference room listening to speakers who provided tools and advice. Attendees and speakers alike shared their experiences and offered help to anyone in need, like a family would. The networking and support-group style event brought together all five branches of the armed forces and hundreds of families.
In addition to briefings, approximately 20 service providers were on hand to provide information, pamphlets and business cards to troops and their families.
The event provided participants with opportunities to connect with local and federal providers who offer one-on-one advice on health care, finances, education and employment options, psychological health, and family support and counseling. Representatives from the United Service Organizations, Red Cross, Veterans Affairs Administration, Tricare, Veterans Commission, Dallas Human Resource Management, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, Medical Research Program supporting Post Traumatic Stress and many others were available to offer services.
Most of the service providers boast a long history of support to the U.S. Armed Forces. And, many individuals were from military families. There were two types of people at the event: those who serve and those who support the ones who serve. There was a mutual respect between the providers and the people seeking the services. Some of the providers had their own story to tell.
Jay Fondren worked with the Veterans Affairs Administration answering questions and advising troops and their families about the programs, services and benefits available to them. He lost his leg in 2004 when his convoy encountered an improvised explosive device while on a security patrol in Baghdad. Now, he is still serving from his wheelchair. The enemy will not keep him from living up to the old Army motto "be all that you can be."
Service providers, briefers, speakers and attendees shared one thing ... a military family. Most had experienced or were about to experience a deployment. Sharing these experiences proved that no one is alone. One Marine couple acted out a scenario of their real-life experience.
Nothing ever goes wrong until the spouse deploys, and then the check engine light comes on in the car or the dishwasher floods the entire kitchen, said Cynthia Barrera, the wife of a Marine. The normal everyday routines become work instead of routine, she said.
Cynthia becomes the single mom and adapts to being the "only one" who can do everything. Jobs that her husband usually did now became her second and third jobs. Taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, fixing the leaky toilet, getting the boys to football practice ... it all adds up. When her Marine came home, she had to learn to give back those jobs that had become her new norm.
On the flip side, the servicemember who has lived in austere conditions with firefights around every corner also has to change from what had been the norm in the war zone.
One tank driver shared his experience. When he returned from deployment, he couldn't drive to the supermarket the way he did before deployment. His heart stopped when he drove by a disabled car on the freeway. He held his breath when he drove under an overpass. He would drive in and out of lanes recklessly or between oil marks on the road. These were survival tactics he learned to keep his unit safe and to avoid explosive devices while driving in the war zone. Returning is an adjustment for servicemembers and family members.
Yellow Ribbon, referred to as a battle book for spouses, was an avenue of resources to teach families and servicemembers how to recognize and deal with the psychological and physical stress of deployments.
Luckey remarked in his closing statements, that stress is part of war. Most all troops will experience post traumatic stress, but how each person deals with it will determine if it becomes a disorder. He attributed the success of reintegration to communication and education. It is a different fight than the generations experienced before, he said. Today, Reservists are a vital part of combat operations. Citizen warriors turn to combat warriors overnight and senior leaders recognize the need to design programs to help cope. Military and families are vitally engaged in the future of the world ... that's stressful, he said.
"We live in challenging times, and the world is not going to get any less stressful anytime soon," Luckey said. "There is no group of people in the world better equipped to deal with stress than the U.S. Armed Forces. We are the best trained, equipped and ready military in the history of the world. We are advancing the cause of freedom and pushing back radicalism, and we are doing it together ... Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coasties. There is no place I would rather be than serving with you. We make sure at the end of the day that our nation prevails. We couldn't do this without our families."
For more information about the Yellow Ribbon Program or to check for upcoming events, log on to www.yellowribbon.mil