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Yellow Ribbon helps spouse find validation

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Courtney Richardson
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Reserve Airmen and their loved ones who attend Yellow Ribbon events are exposed to a wide variety of deployment-related resources, and one spouse said the event she attended provided her exactly what she was seeking—validation.

Johnnetta Bolden attended an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon event in Los Angeles, California, Dec. 17-19, with her husband, Senior Airman Pierre Bolden from the 459th Air Refueling Wing at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

Pierre deployed to Kuwait for six months soon after he and Johnnetta married.

“That was his first deployment and the first time I was away from him for that much time. It was strange,” Johnnetta said.

What made the distance more difficult was that she didn’t join her husband when he went to a Yellow Ribbon pre-deployment event.

During the pre-deployment event he attended, Pierre said he was hyper-focused on building the best foundation for his wife that he could. Not only did he collect deployment resources related to resiliency and relationships, he also learned about finance, business and legal matters.

“I brought back enough information to not overload her but to set her up with contacts in case she needed help,” he said.

Despite his efforts, Pierre’s deployment was not easy on Johnnetta, who said she had feelings that she didn’t understand.

“I need help confirming that my feeling were normal,” she said. “I’m seeking validation.”

The event’s keynote speaker, retired Lt. Col. Lynne Hull, gave Johnnetta just what she sought.

Hull painted the stereotypical image of a Hallmark movie-like reunion when an Airman returns from deployment, and went on to explain how that expectations about reunitions rarely becomes reality.

Hull said reintegration is challenging. Deployers come home tired and jet-lagged and are thrust back into balancing all of life’s demands. Loved ones at home establish new rhythms in the deployer’s absence, and it can be frustrating and confusing when the trying return to the rhythm they had prior to deployment

“Maybe you’ve been separated for six months and you’ve grown apart, haven’t communicated, and now you have to reintegrate into life as a family. It might not be romantic. It may be hard. There may be weird feelings, but those feeling are normal,” Hull said. “Give it some time and be willing to learn a new reality.”

Johnnetta said she identified with Hull’s presentation, and it brought her relief.

“She definitely went through my range of emotions, and it validated my feelings,” Johnnetta said.

Feeling confident from the keynote address and ready to learn more, the Boldens attended several of the event’s breakout sessions that best met their needs. Communication and mental health improvement were two subjects in which they had particular interest.

“I know [mental health] issues don’t always show right away,” she said. “He could be going through something that even he doesn’t recognize, and I don’t want to take him acting out of character as him being intentionally mean or not caring about me. Learning to pick up the signs would be a big help.”

The Boldens said they also attended and enjoyed classes about leveraging individual strengths and developing values-based goals.

“I feel really good about what I learned so far,” Johnnetta said. “My biggest takeaways were that life equals risk, and when you don’t give up, you cannot fail. The thing that stuck with me is that having value-based goals ensures that you are pursuing your goals and not the expectations of others.”

Pierre said he was excited to attend his wife.

“Being at the conference gives her an insight of what I went through to help us feel secure and be mentally prepared for today and for the next deployment,” he said. “Being away from distractions gives us space to focus and to get into the right mindset to receive and digest the information.”

The couple is expecting their first child in early 2022.