March 3, 2010

Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program aids Soldiers, families before, during, after mobilization

By Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Soldiers and family members of the Virginia National Guard’s 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion gathered in Virginia Beach Feb. 21 for the unit’s second Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event. The 529th is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan this spring and the Yellow Ribbon program will prepare the Soldiers and their families for the issues they may face before, during and after the deployment.

Yellow Ribbon is a legislatively-mandated program designed to help service members and their families receive information and assistance regarding all the benefits and entitlements they have earned as a result of a military deployment. This includes information on health care benefits, counseling services, anger and substance abuse management, safety awareness and marriage enrichment. 

The Virginia National Guard Yellow Ribbon Program began in August 2008 and since December 2008, the three-member Yellow Ribbon team has worked with 15 different Virginia National Guard units that were mobilized and demobilized.

“We’re trying to help these service members and show them that deployment is not the enemy,” said Elizabeth Seaborn, a Yellow Ribbon support specialist for the Virginia Guard. “We offer a lot of different partnerships with a lot of different organizations.”

This includes veterans’ organizations, community services, colleges and universities, and organizations offering spiritual support, employment assistance and financial assistance.

“It’s nothing to get 20-25 different organizations at an event,” she said. “And they offer the information right there. The face time family members get with these organizations is very valuable.”

"We’ve worked diligently with our sister state agencies, federal agencies, veterans service organizations and many non-profit groups to ensure all of our Soldiers, Airmen and their families will know the support and benefits they can receive as a Citizen Soldier in the commonwealth of Virginia,” said Col. Thomas L. Morgan, director of manpower and personnel for the Virginia National Guard. “We don’t want to duplicate the many mandatory briefings Soldiers and Airmen receive during the phases of deployment. We seek to reinforce that information with the specifics pertinent to a citizen of Virginia."

Even though the 529th CSSB is located in Virginia Beach, it contains Soldiers from throughout the state and a few from out of state. These first two Yellow Ribbon events gave family members of the 529th an opportunity to meet one another, to start support networks and to gather information that will assist them during the deployment, according to Lt. Col. Michelle Rose, the unit commander.

The 529th has been working on its Family Readiness Group program for the past 12 months, she said. But now that they are getting ready to deploy, family readiness “comes into sharp focus and becomes critical at this stage.” 

The Yellow Ribbon program consists of seven events spread through the entire deployment cycle, from the initial alert order until 180 days following the mobilization.

"Yellow Ribbon events allow us to provide combat readiness for commanders through Soldier, Airmen and family care,” Morgan said. “We strive to mitigate or resolve the anxiety associated with a deployment and separation so our Guard members and families can focus on potential opportunities and the mission."

The first two events are for service members and their families. The first event occurs 90 days before the deployment while the second takes place between 30-45 days out from the mobilization.

Family members attend the third event, 30-60 days after the mobilization, and fourth event, which takes place 30-60 prior to the re-deployment.

After the unit returns, service members and their families attend the final three Yellow Ribbon events, all of which last for two days. The fifth event is held 30 days after 51% of the unit members come off leave following the mobilization. Within 60 days, the sixth event is held and the final event is held within 90 days of their return.   

The goal is to have contact with the service members and their families throughout the whole deployment cycle.

“What we’re trying to do is help these service members and their families to be better off at the end of the deployment than they were at the beginning,” explained Seaborn.

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