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Spouses key element of Yellow Ribbon training

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Anna-Marie Wyant
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
Approximately 140 pre- and post-deployment Air Force reservists gathered for a Yellow Ribbon event in Daytona Beach Aug. 23-24 to learn about benefits, learn how to better reintegrate, or learn how to prepare for upcoming changes.

When reservists deploy, they go either as an individual member or as a unit. They have to leave their friends, families and homes for an extended period of time to fulfill their duties. At Yellow Ribbon events, however, reservists are encouraged to bring their loved ones.

The Yellow Ribbon Program was initiated by the Secretary of Defense and mandated by Congress in 2008 to provide information, services, referral and proactive outreach programs to reservists and National Guardsmen and their dependents through all phases of deployment cycles. The program's goals are to prepare service members and their families for mobilization, sustain families during mobilization, and reintegrate service members with their families and communities upon return from deployment.

The information offered is not just for the military members: Staff Sgt. Vincent Lopez, an Air Reserve Technician with the 94th Munitions Squadron, Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, said getting information for his wife, Jessica Lopez, was just as important.

"Yellow Ribbon is very informative for service members because it gives me a sense of security for my spouse and all the things that she'll have available to her while I'm gone," said Lopez, who is preparing for a six-month overseas deployment. "That makes me feel a whole lot better."

Yellow Ribbon includes general sessions and breakout sessions to explain everything from Tricare medical benefits to financial planning, and include resource providers such as Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and the American Red Cross, available to answer questions. This was the second time the Lopezes attended a Yellow Ribbon event before a deployment. They said all married Airmen should bring their spouses to these events.

"It's not just the information, it's the overall experience--the information you obtain and the quality time you get to spend before and after," Mrs. Lopez said. "I do definitely encourage other couples to go. I think it should be a mandatory part of the process."

Staff Sgt. Kenneth McMillen, of the 307th Red Horse Squadron, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, returned from an Afghanistan deployment in the spring. This was the first Yellow Ribbon event he and his wife, Suzanne, attended. The couple married this summer.

"This is a good event to attend to have a better understanding of the benefits you can get," Sergeant McMillen said. "We wish we had gone before my deployment, too."
Mrs. McMillen said she was able to absorb the information better because of the personable presenters and less formal atmosphere as the dress code is civilian clothes rather than military uniforms.

"It can sometimes be intimidating if someone is higher ranking," Mrs. McMillen said. "But here the ranks are not listed on nametags and everybody is treated equal, so you don't feel any pressure."

She also said Yellow Ribbon is a great networking opportunity for Reserve spouses who often live far from their base and do not get a chance to meet one another otherwise.

"It was fun," Mrs. McMillen said. "We had a chance to be interactive and meet other couples from other bases."

Mrs. Lopez added that it was nice to hear about other couples' deployment experiences and share their own.

"It's good to hear different stories, different points of view, and how some spouses are handling their experiences in a different way than we are," she said of speaking to other military spouses. "You definitely obtain feedback. I can relate to them and know how they feel."

Both couples agreed that their experience showed them that Yellow Ribbon is especially helpful for couples, but would benefit reservists regardless of marital status.

Although Sergeant Lopez is confident his wife will do well in his absence, he said coming to Yellow Ribbon and learning how much support is really out there puts his mind at ease and gives him less to worry about while he is deployed.

"She's a strong woman, so I know she will be able to take care of a lot of things by herself," he said. "But if a situation did arise, I know that she would be taken care of."