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AF Reserve in Pacific overcomes COVID-19 challenges to host Yellow Ribbon Program

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --

The stress associated with deployments can pose one of the biggest challenges Airmen face before going “down range.”

The Yellow Ribbon Program is there to help assist reservists in obtaining the necessary tools to alleviate stress before deploying … and during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 624th Regional Support Group recently found a way to facilitate the program virtually for the first time.

Active duty military members who have deployed become well-accustomed to the deployment process, and its assembly-line style, ensuring members get out the door safely and ready for what’s to come. For reservists however, the process is a bit more complex, and with the ongoing pandemic, the challenges are even greater. Reservists have multiple priorities to juggle as they and their families prepare for what is to come. Coordinating with a civilian job, family care, and the financial responsibilities.

“I’ve been deployed a few times, but you really don’t know how to deal with some of the challenges,” said Senior Master Sgt. Andre Valentine, the 624th RSG Yellow Ribbon representative. “There are so many programs out there to tap into and as the military has evolved over the past couple of years, those programs have grown as well.”

Reservists train to be mission-ready. Leading up to deployment, checking off numerous boxes in a standardized routine helps to confirm readiness. Yet, even the most thorough checklist can’t account for all potential stressors, and that’s where the Yellow Ribbon Program helps.

“The Yellow Ribbon Program is an incredibly valuable platform for our Reserve Citizen Airmen and their families so they have the tools they need,” said Col. Athanasia Shinas, 624th Regional Support Group commander. “It’s especially important to ensure our team is ready for deployment, even in the midst of a pandemic.”

In 2008, our U.S. Congress recognized these unique circumstances Reservists face and approved the Yellow Ribbon Program with its inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act. The primary purpose for this program is to promote the welfare of members, their families, and communities, by connecting them with resources throughout the deployment cycle. Due to the importance of reintegration, the program provides support during this crucial time. With the current pandemic, new ways of how to execute the program are being devised.

“The typical Yellow Ribbon event is hosted at central venue,” said Valentine. “Members fly out to a hotel with their families and participate in a variety of programs. Events are scheduled all weekend, which includes a variety of breakout sessions covering a wide range of valuable information.”

Because 624th RSG deployers weren’t able to travel due to COVID-19 precautions, they were encouraged to attend locally and virtually. The 48th Aerial Port Squadron was able to host this first-ever virtual Yellow Ribbon event and adhere to social and physical distancing protocols.

“The content of the event remained the same,” said Valentine. “The main difference is that we didn’t have the travel incentives. But all the information that pre-deployers normally get, we were able to provide.”

Shinas expressed support for the program in her opening comments.

“This program is a vital part of maintaining resiliency and showing our Airmen that we have their backs,” said Shinas. “It’s critical that we still pressed forward in holding the event. Resiliency starts at the home front and carries on to every aspect of who we are. The deployers and their families are all part of our `ohana, and it’s imperative that we consider everyone’s wellbeing and provide them with the support to thrive in what can be a challenging period.”

During an event, the tools and resources provided are just one facet. Valentine also added that the interaction between attendees helps provide a sense of community.

“Most people think that the military is all about numbers and is member focused, but we encourage the families to come and take part,” said Valentine. “Interactions are how we form support groups and networks. Making these connections and building these relationships back home are just as important as the relationships military members make downrange.”

For more information on the Yellow Ribbon Program contact Valentine at 808-726-5422 or DSN 315-449-7232. Also visit the Air Force Reserve Command Yellow Ribbon website at https://www.afrc.af.mil/AboutUs/YellowRibbon.aspx and the DoD Yellow Ribbon website at https://www.yellowribbon.mil.