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Resource provider gives back to program that helped her

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Luke Johnson
  • 943rd Rescue Group
Prior to a 2012 deployment, Senior Master Sgt. Natalie Gray attended her first Air Force Reserve Command Yellow Ribbon Program training event and learned about the benefits and help available to her.

When the chaplain's assistant returned from her six-month duty, she learned how to cope with reintegrating with her family through another Yellow Ribbon weekend.

"(When I attend the post-deployment Yellow Ribbon event) my kids and I were still going through reintegration and some of the issues that we were going through were highlighted from the travel strains as we were traveling from the west coast to the east coast," said Gray. "My patience levels were very off at that point in time; that was something I was working through."

She learned some very effective communications skills at one of the breakout sessions to help bridge the gap between her and her daughter, then 16.

(We) talked a lot about the things that were discussed in the communications and resiliency briefing afterwards," said Gray. "It opened up an avenue to have some really honest communications with her."

The tranquil environment during her second Yellow Ribbon event allowed her and her children to be at ease.

"It helped us bond as a family and communicate," said Gray. "Being at that neutral location allowed us to have that communication that we were not having prior to that."

Gray gained so much from the Yellow Ribbon Program that she joined it and now provides chaplaincy services to assist those going through same issues she experienced. Now she uses her deployment experiences to help fellow reservists deal with pre- and post-deployment issues that they may face.

Yellow Ribbon Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Leist said Gray offered words of advice and encouragement to children attending a Yellow Ribbon training weekend Jan. 24-26 in Indian Wells, Calif.

"She spoke openly about her two daughters and how she kept in touch with them and some of the personal issues they went through not having their mommy around," said Leist, a member of the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Gray, who is assigned to U.S. Northern Command as an individual mobilization augmentee, said Yellow Ribbon "is all about giving back and taking care of the Airmen."

"This program is very important, especially for our pre-deployers and those who've never deployed before because there are many things that they are going to experience and also for the second- or third-time deployers because every time it's going to be different," she said.

The most rewarding aspect for Gray of being a Yellow Ribbon service provider, she said, is interacting with her fellow reservists and their families.

"I like the fact that we are not in uniform, and I don't have my rank on me," said Gray. "The lower-ranking Airmen that are talking and sharing stuff with me have no clue that I'm a senior NCO. I've had experiences where Airmen would not want to talk to me because of my rank, and having no uniform provides an even playing field for folks to discuss things."

At the California event, she was able to provide assistance and counseling during breakout sessions for groups of couples and singles.

"She was very open about the separation from her family, especially her daughters and the significant needs that surfaced not being physically available to them at some very crucial times in their lives and at tender teenage years," said Leist.

The chaplain said Gray's warm and welcoming personality was a vital asset at the event and helped make the chaplain ministry very effective.

"Her approachable nature and attention to detail blended well at the chaplain resource table," he said. "She passed out literature and shared candidly and expressively about her pre- and post-deployment experiences as they impacted her military commitment and life events."

Gray feels an important aspect of the Yellow Ribbon Program is that children and families can connect with one another and provide support.

"(When I spoke with the kids) I told them that my daughter was in their shoes, and I was able to give some of the older kids my daughter's advice on what she had done while I was deployed," said Gray.

As reservist assigned to an active-duty unit, she is able to advise the fulltime military members on Yellow Ribbon so they know there is a support system in place for other reservists there.

"This is an area that senior leadership is sometimes not aware of and being in the position that I'm in as an IMA, I can advise leadership of the programs that are available to reservists when they are either getting ready to deploy or coming off a deployment," she said.

Gray said Yellow Ribbon is very important for reservists and their families to get the information they need for all aspects from the deployment cycle.

"As long we have reservists deploying, the program needs to say in place to help them reintegrate," said Gray.