Families from 3rd Batallion, 116th Infantry speak with community service providers at the command's Yellow Ribbon Program held at Busch Gardens Sept. 13. (Photo by Capt. Dayna Rowden, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — More than 800 Soldiers and families from 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry gathered in Williamsburg, Va., Sept 13-14, to participate in the Army National Guard Deployment Cycle Support Yellow Ribbon Program.
The Soldiers and families traveled to Williamsburg by charter bus and stayed in local hotels. Once there, they attended informational briefings on Saturday morning and spent the rest of day bonding with family members at Busch Gardens. At a picnic held at Busch Gardens, Soldiers and families had the opportunity to talk directly to community service providers to get more information regarding available programs and benefits. Most Soldiers and families used the Busch Gardens "Here's to the Heroes" program that allows servicemembers and their dependents one free ticket each.
The Yellow Ribbon Program was mandated by the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act and is a robust, preventative, proactive support program for Soldiers and their families that provides the continuum of care needed to ensure the Soldiers and families receive the care and services they need to support a normal life through the entire deployment cycle.
The briefings offered by the YRP focus attention on the health and wellbeing of the Soldier and family as a total package in order to fully address the complex and ongoing needs resulting from fulfilling military commitments. The briefings are designed to help the Soldiers and Families navigate through the benefits, entitlements and programs available.
“As important as the briefs are, it is equally important for the Soldiers and families to get to know each other,” said Lt. Col. William L. Zana, the battalion commander. “The relationships that are established during this weekend between spouses and between Soldiers are just as important to us as anything else we do here. It is a huge challenge to get those connections normally. This is a rare opportunity for us to make connections with the Soldiers in our unit. Busch Gardens is just a magnet to get everyone here.”
The weekend was an opportunity for the battalion to focus its energy on its Soldiers and its families.
“Active duty has the time and resources to do this with the families. In the Guard, we have to use our drill weekends for training. There is not much time for the fun stuff with the families,” said Sgt. 1st Class Kris Kindoll.
The YRP is still in the developmental stages in the Virginia National Guard, but according to many of the Soldiers and families, the weekend was a success.
“The Yellow Ribbon and Freedom Salute programs are amazing,” said Liz C. Sweeney, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Darren J Sweeney. “It is a great opportunity that we can connect not only as a family, but also to spend time with the people who became his family while he was gone. This gives me an in to a different side of his life.”
The YRP is tailored for the specific needs of National Guard Soldiers and families. Active duty Soldiers and families have the benefit of being located near a post. The YRP brings many of the services provided on a military installation and makes those services available to the Soldiers and families.
Many active-duty Soldiers do not have to worry about looking for a job when they return from a deployment. The Virginia National Guard has partnered with the Virginia Employment Commission to assist returning Soldiers to find jobs in Virginia.
“That’s a big hit,” said 1st Lt. Scott A. Nivens, Virginia Yellow Ribbon Program project officer. “One of the biggest problems Soldiers face when returning from deployment is finding a new job.”
The program also gives families and Soldiers, who might not otherwise meet, a chance to get to know each other better.
“It’s not like it used to be. Our units were localized in one community,” said Command Sgt. Major Alan M. Ferris, the battalion command sergeant major. “Now, we’re spread out across the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, even some in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina. Now families rarely meet, unless you do something like this. These kinds of events make huge difference.”
The YRP also serves to recognize the role that families play in the support of the National Guard.
“I felt appreciated and supported. Just meeting the Soldiers he deployed with to Afghanistan and Iraq, made me feel really, really happy,” said Jina Kindoll, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Kris Kindoll.
“That appreciation is a key to retention,” said Sgt. 1st Class Wayne R. Springer. “A lot of the time Soldiers want to re-enlist, but if their wives don’t think they should, because they don’t feel appreciated or supported, you end up losing a lot of good people.”
Though 3rd Battalion enjoyed many of the benefits of the YRP, the program is still under development, and the Virginia National Guard is working to perfect the program to offer a great program that will help address the unique needs of the National Guard and its families.
“We have to integrate the families, especially with the Guard. If you don’t integrate the families in the Guard, you’ll lose the Guard,” said Sgt. 1st Class Kris Kindoll.