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Reserve family enjoys Yellow Ribbon together

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Veronica Aceveda
  • 512th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
When 10-year-old Isabella first learned her daddy was deploying, she said she was really upset about it. But, after attending her first Yellow Ribbon Program event, she learned to not stress as much and think about the positive.

Now, with her family at their second Yellow Ribbon training weekend April 25 - 27 on the Eastern Shore in Maryland, the Sanchez family could reflect and laugh about the challenges they endured during the six months that Staff Sgt. Howard Sanchez worked in the Kyrgyz Republic. "I respected single moms before, but now I have a whole new outlook," said Carol Sanchez, his wife of 18 years and mother of two daughters. "It's not easy. It seemed like everything waited to break until he was gone - the toilet, the van, the refrigerator."

"Even the ceiling fan," blurted their 15-year-old daughter, Selena.

Sanchez, an aerial transportation craftsman assigned to the 482nd Fighter Wing at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., said he was grateful for having a good friend who could help, but he still worried.

"It's just not the same as when I am there," said the 14-year veteran. "For example, dealing with an auto mechanic's diagnosis from over there was frustrating."

Mrs. Sanchez appreciated having a close-knit neighborhood, but realized it wasn't fair to rely on them for everything.

"YouTube became my best friend," she said. "I learned how to fix the toilet from watching 'how to' videos."

She said she found strengths she didn't know she had, and so did the girls.

Isabella said she filled her days by playing with friends and teaching her dog a lot of tricks, including jumping through a hoop. Selena found herself more immersed into school and Junior ROTC activities.

"It took a little bit, but we made our own routines," said Mrs. Sanchez. "We did things in a way that worked for us."

Then, after many days of hurdling a 10-hour time difference to video chat, dad came home and rocked the boat.

"We had our own chores," said Isabella, beaming with brightly colored braces on her teeth. "I did the dishes, and Selena had her stuff. Then, dad came home and started changing things."

To assist with this type of transition between service members' military and civilian roles, the Department of Defense has conducted Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program events since 2008. These events offer Reserve and Guard members and their families' access to information ranging from health care and education benefits to financial and family services, including workshops and resources for post-deployment re-acclimation.

"It's just so nice for us to be able to get away and be able to spend some time together without having to tend normal life things like cooking and cleaning," said Mrs. Sanchez. "I know he wasn't on the front lines of battle, but it's still good for us to have this time to get to know each other again. We've all changed - became more independent.

"The girls are a lot stronger than I thought. I'm so proud of them and am thankful they're able to have fun here too with the youth activities."

Yellow Ribbon events cater its children's programs for six different age categories ranging from 0 to 17.

"We do some really cool stuff," said Selena, who said she still keeps in touch with friends she met at her first Yellow Ribbon event earlier this year. "We even talk about some of the things we've learned through Yellow Ribbon and how it has helped."

Selena and her newfound friends are among the 6,000 Air Force reservists and family members who attend Yellow Ribbon events before, during or after a deployment each year. Interested attendees should talk to their unit Yellow Ribbon representatives to see if they qualify.

By the end of the weekend, the Sanchez family agreed attending a second event was worth it.
"At your first one, you realize there's so much information and so much to do that you really have to pick and choose," said the sergeant. "At your second one, you're more familiar with how the program works, so you're able to relax a bit more while taking in some of the stuff you missed the first time and exploring new things, too. More importantly, Yellow Ribbons reinforce bringing the family together again."