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Chaplains a popular part of Yellow Ribbon

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Ray Sarracino
An Air Force Reserve chaplain traveled from one corner of the country to another to support a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event for the first time.

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Patrick Travers, a Catholic priest and 25-year Air Force Reserve veteran, Travers performed mass twice the weekend of Jan. 14-15 and led several group discussions. He is an individual reservist assigned to an active-duty unit at Hurlburt Field, Florida, but resides 3,500 miles away in Ketchikan, Alaska.

He said that the rewards of service far outweigh the logistical challenges of getting to work at his unit or for this event, the first more than a dozen Yellow Ribbon will host through September.

“It actually isn’t as bad as it sounds,” he said, “it’s only about an hour and 45 minute flight to Seattle, then it’s on to Atlanta, then a brief flight to Florida from there. Once I’m back in the lower 48, it goes a lot more smoothly.”

This isn’t the first time during the chaplain’s GI career that he’s had a long commute to work. He was formerly a traditional reservist and flew more than 700 miles to Anchorage for monthly drill weekends. Although he only broke even paywise after paying for his flight, he said the rewards outweighed the sacrifice.

“This ministry is so meaningful. To be able to be in places where people who need what we are able to give … some of the highlights of my entire ministry have been in the Air Force chaplaincy,” he said.

Travers said he was happy to learn about – and support -- Yellow Ribbon, which promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments.

“It’s something that I think is tremendously valuable, especially for those about to deploy, he said “It’s easy to be caught by surprise by issues (relating to deployment). Most of the pastoral issues had to do with the family back home and stress caused by separation. To have something like this to prepare both the family, and the service member, is very valuable.”

Enlisted chaplain assistants provide an informal bridge between the enlisted force and the chaplains, who are commissioned officers. Tech. Sgt. Austin Holland from Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, filled that role at the Florida event.

“We’re the eyes and ears of the Chaplain Corps. Enlisted (members) sometimes feel more comfortable talking to us first, before they talk to a chaplain,” he said. “We don’t offer counseling, we help guide them to the where they need to go.”

One of the draws of the chaplain’s table during Yellow Ribbon events is the numerous books and publications offered to participants.

“The free inspirational literature and helpful publications are meant to help people’s spiritual and inspirational needs, and offer a way for them to continue their faith journey after the weekend is over,” Holland said.

Among those who’ve been guided by chaplain assistants at a Yellow Ribbon event is Master Sgt. Carl Steele, a KC-135 Stratotanker crew chief at Grissom, Air Reserve Base, Indiana. He attended the Florida event with his wife, Rachelle, who credited a visit to the chaplain’s table for leading them to participate in the “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” session.

Led by Chaplain (Maj.) Joshua Kim of Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, the year-old program is a light-hearted seminar which explores the underlying dynamics of couples’ relationships in a humorous way.

“We’d heard nothing but good things about the class,” she said. “I really haven’t laughed this hard in a long time. Chaplain Kim is amazing.”

Pre- and post-deployment counseling are key offerings of chaplains at Yellow Ribbon events, which also include worship services during the weekend.

Travers, the priest from Alaska, led a breakout session on pre- and post-deployment issues that was attended by Tech. Sgt. Oshanda Erb, a flying crew chief for the 714th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The 19-year Air Force Reserve veteran is getting ready for her third overseas deployment. She attended with her partner, Irasel Bueno, to prepare themselves for the separation caused by her military job.

“I like that he allowed everyone to ask different questions,” Erb said. “The most beneficial information is preparing to deploy and knowing what to expect.”

The Yellow Ribbon event was Bueno’s first exposure to life in the military family.

“It’s very impressive, the unity, the support, independent of which breakout the message was still the same, they’re there not only for the member, but for the families as well,” she said.

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, the Air Force Reserve program trains 7,000 reservists and those closest to them in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more.

Another dozen are set with others expected to be added. Pre- and post-deployers should contact their unit Yellow Ribbon representatives for dates and locations.

(Sarracino is an individual reservist, serving as mobilization augmentee to the Public Affairs career field manager at the Pentagon)