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Speaker: deployers should take time for the little things

Senior Master Sergeant Eric Smith shares communication strategies with pre-deployment couples April 23, 2016, during a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program training weekend in Denver. Smith, first sergeant for the 340th Flying Training Group at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, shared personal stories relating to doing the little things to lay the foundation for a successful deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Eric Amidon)

Senior Master Sergeant Eric Smith shares communication strategies with pre-deployment couples April 23, 2016, during a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program training weekend in Denver. Smith, first sergeant for the 340th Flying Training Group at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, shared personal stories relating to doing the little things to lay the foundation for a successful deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Eric Amidon)

DENVER -- After the 2011 death of his mother, Senior Master Sgt. Eric Smith found a locked box among her belongings. Inside, along with personal papers and valuables, was every letter, card and note he had written to her since 1985.

A swell of emotions left him speechless, the Air Force’s First Sergeant of the Year for 2014 told a class he led Saturday at an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event here.

“I didn’t realize the impact my letters had had on my mother until that moment,” Smith said. “It was the little things that mattered most.”

Smith, first sergeant with the 340th Flying Training Group at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, speaks frequently at Yellow Ribbon events. The program promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. His audience during four hour-long sessions in Colorado consisted of Airmen preparing to deploy and those closest to them.

Effective communication, conflict resolution and the importance of networking were all key points to Smith’s program to help those attending establish a solid foundation for openness and understanding throughout their deployments.
“Plan for the people left behind,” he said to GIs in attendance. “Schedule time to talk to friends and family while deployed.”
Smith, who has a doctorate degree in management, shared from personal experience the importance of effective communication before and during deployment.

“I’m really passionate about what I do,” he said before covering ways to “always make other people feel comfortable.”

That included people in his audience, said Rachel Laberta, whose husband, Leonard, is a master sergeant in the Reserve’s 433rd Civil Engineering Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
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Laberta was overcome by emotion at the similarity between herself and Smith’s mother in valuing letters sent to them during long periods of separation.

“Letter writing is so important,” she said. “Phone calls go away but letters are forever.”

Tech Sgt. Nathan Sigars and his fiancée, Maria Vazquez, said they felt the overwhelmingly positive themes throughout Smith’s presentation.

“He was very engaging and kept our attention throughout,” said Sigars, also a Lackland reservist. “I like the team interactions used to remind us of communication strategies we can use in our personal and professional lives.”

Smith encouraged Airmen in his classes to ensure they establish a strong support system before they deploy.

“Do the little things,” he said. “The stronger the foundation, the smoother the transition when you get back.”
Yellow Ribbon began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles.
Each year, the Air Force Reserve program trains 7,000 reservists and those closest to them in education benefits, healthcare, retirement information and more through a series of weekend training sessions around the country.

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