Yellow Ribbon honors children

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Matt Burke
  • 914th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Deploying Air Force reservists who are parents brought their children to military training here during the Month of the Military Child to interact with other youngsters in the same circumstances.

“It’s his second deployment so I know what to do and what to expect, but we’re still going to have a hard time without him and we will miss him,” Olivia Ledezma, 15, said of her stepfather, Master Sgt. Ken Knight, an in-flight refueling technician with the 72nd Air Refueling Squadron at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana.

They were among participants at April 22-24 training sponsored by the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, which promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments.

“This is my second event and I feel like it’s a great opportunity to meet new people, meet families that are going through the same thing,” said Ledezma.

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, Yellow Ribbon trains 7,000 Air Force reservists and their loved ones in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more.

“I think it difficult sometimes for families unless they understand exactly what we do on the Reserve side,” said Knight. “People (who) work in the Reserve, including my base, are spread all over. We have people that travel (to Grissom ARB) from Michigan, Indiana and Illinois and it’s amazing the community we have on the base but sometimes the families don’t get to have that like the service member does.”

Children received certificates of appreciation during a short ceremony, as did those attending a Yellow Ribbon event in Denver the same days. Ensuring every child in attendance was honored was the responsibility of Senior Master Sgt. Jackie Zawada, a Yellow Ribbon project manager at Air Force Reserve headquarters at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and a reservist with the 94th Airlift Wing at Dobbins Air Reserve Base near Atlanta.

“I love kids and I think they should be recognized,” said Zawada, who runs youth programs for Yellow Ribbon. “As April is the Month of the Military Child, we try to encourage families to really reach out and appreciate their kids.

Sometimes in the deployment process the needs of children can be marginalized because of the importance of the upcoming duty and all the details that accompany it, she said, while parents communicate to ensure daily functions can be accomplished during the reservist’s absence.

“The children are not the ones that raised their hands, they’re not the ones that asked to be enlisted,” said Zawada, a mother of two. “Yet they still go through these deployments simultaneously with their family members.”

According to the Military Child Education Coalition, nearly 2 million military-connected youths live with perpetual challenges presented by career moves, parental deployments, and a host of life transitions that include reintegration and dealing with profoundly changed parents. The well-being of these children depends heavily on a network of supportive adults.

For most Yellow Ribbon attendees, a military child is someone whose parent is either preparing to deploy or has recently returned from a deployment. However, one thing that makes the Air Force Reserve Command unique is the opportunity for some Airmen to serve in the communities where they grew up and still support the military’s global mission. Sometimes young deploying Airmen are accompanied to Yellow Ribbon events by their parents, who have the opportunity to hear some of the information firsthand, perhaps for the first time.

“This is his first deployment and I’m very excited for him,” said Katie Foley, mother of Senior Airman Kevin Foley, a flight engineer with the 328th Airlift Squadron at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in New York. “This is what he’s wanted to do since he was very little. He joined the Air Force Reserve right out of high school and it’s been red, white and blue since he was 4 years old.”

Katie Foley said she understands that this experience will make her have to say goodbye for awhile.

“We live close to the base so we get to see him fly over the house in the C-130 all the time,” she said. “So I’m going to miss that for the next few months. It’s always that letting go that’s hard.”