Guard Program Creates Troop, Family Support Networks
(January 20, 2011)
Farmington was the first community in Minnesota to earn the Yellow Ribbon network designation through the Minnesota National Guard's Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program. The designation is given to communities or groups that create a sustainable action plan to support troops and their families. Photo courtesy of
the Minnesota Army National Guard, Jan. 18, 2011
WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2011 – Two signs stand at the entryway
to Farmington, Minn. One displays the city's population and,
just underneath, another sign states “Yellow Ribbon City,” a
message to all who that pass by that this city stands for
military family support.
These signs are cropping up
on city borders and on company walls across the state,
thanks to a Minnesota National Guard program that's
bolstering community support of troops and their families.
The Guard's Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program aims to
raise community awareness of the unique wartime challenges
military families face and to ensure troops and their
families are surrounded by support throughout the deployment
process and long after, explained Army Lt. Col. Barbara
O'Reilly, the program's chief.
very excited to support service members and
families,” O'Reilly said of the communities and
support organizations in her home state. “They
see this is as doing their part and their way to
serve and be involved in what we're doing as a
program is an extension of the Defense Department's Yellow
Ribbon Reintegration Program, which offers training events
and support to Guard and Reserve service members and their
families before, after and during deployment. Beyond the
Yellow Ribbon encompasses that training, while also
embedding community support and awareness into the process
to better serve local troops and their families, explained
Army Sgt. 1st Class Melanie Nelson, the program's chief of
communications and marketing.|
This support is vital
in a state that lacks the resources and extensive support of
a major active-duty installation, she said. Yet Minnesota is
home to more than 13,000 Guard members, including 11,000
soldiers, about 2,000 airmen, and thousands of other
reservists in the Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast
Communities are eager to help, Nelson said,
and the Guard program can help them understand what the
needs are and how they can join forces on behalf of military
Communities, such as Farmington, that
express a desire to help over the long haul can earn a
Yellow Ribbon designation through the Guard program. But
this designation doesn't signify a simple declaration of
support by a city official. Instead, Guard officials ask
communities or groups to come up with a sustainable action
plan on how they'll support military families throughout the
deployment process, Nelson explained.
involves a synchronized effort within the community,
including churches, public safety offices, schools, parks
and recreation centers and other community resources. A
church may host a wonderful event in support of military
families, Nelson explained, but could have a much greater
impact if it connects with other agencies on behalf of
“The program is about
synchronizing the efforts of the community to support
service members,” she said. “And it looks different in every
community, because every community is different.”
Residents of Watonwan
County, Minn., develop a Yellow Ribbon community
campaign. Communities that create a sustainable
action plan to support troops and their families
can earn a Yellow Ribbon network designation
through the Minnesota National Guard's Beyond
the Yellow Ribbon program. Photo courtesy of the
Minnesota Army National Guard, Jan. 18, 2011
date, 45 entities –- including counties, companies and
cities -– have earned the Yellow Ribbon designation. This
number includes 27 cities, 14 companies and four counties,
The first city to sign with a Yellow Ribbon
network was Farmington in 2008. The city has become a model
for others in the program, O'Reilly said.
support to military families gave everyone a common thing to
work on,” she said.
Within the city, 13 faith-based
organizations take turns hosting a military-support effort
each month. And, rather than sparsely attended picnics
sponsored by each military organization, the city now
organizes a communitywide picnic. Last year, the picnic
served meals to more than 600 military families, O'Reilly
said. “It's an amazing display of what can happen when you
work together,” she said.
The town of Lakeville,
another Yellow Ribbon community, united efforts on behalf of
families whose loved ones died in combat. Within months, an
Army staff sergeant was killed in Iraq and an Air Force
major was killed in Afghanistan.
together as a whole to support the families through the
crisis,” Nelson said. The community raised money all summer
so it could place a memorial bench in the town's park in
honor of the service members. The community again came
together on behalf of a military family when a soldier
returned from Afghanistan as a double amputee, Nelson said.
“We ask them to make whatever commitment they can make,”
she said of the Yellow Ribbon communities. “We're not
telling them they have to do ‘X, Y and Z,' but to identify
to what they can do and commit to doing it.”
bonus of this network, she said, is that it's there for
whatever is needed. Nelson cited Hugo, another Yellow Ribbon
city, as an example. Just months before it was proclaimed a
Yellow Ribbon city, a tornado hit and caused substantial
loss within the community. The budding network of community
agencies helped the city spring to action quicker in the
wake of the natural disaster, she said.
“This idea of
a synchronized community makes you better able to react to
any type of community-related crisis or event,” Nelson said.
The Guard will be calling on the communities again soon.
This spring, the state may see its largest deployment yet,
Nelson said. The last time the state faced a large-scale
deployment was in 2004, initiating the start of Beyond the
In 2005, retired Maj. Gen. Larry
Shellito, then Minnesota's adjutant general, tasked the
state chaplain to create a program that would ease the
homecoming process for returning soldiers. He wanted their
homecomings to be far different from the one he received as
a second lieutenant after he returned from Vietnam and hid
his uniform before he got to the airport, concerned about
the reception he'd receive wearing it.
soldiers returned in 2006, they did so to a comprehensive
reintegration program that helped to ensure a successful
transition back to their everyday lives.
To step up
support for troops and families during this next deployment,
O'Reilly said, they're calling on unit commanders to
administer an assessment so they can take stock of what the
actual needs are. Guard officials then will be able to
provide communities with a by-region list of actual needs.
Families in a farming community, for example, may have
different needs than those in a city, she explained.
“We're excited to see how this moves forward,” O'Reilly
said. “We'll have a clear picture of what the needs are and
how communities can help.”
The Guard also has 14
family assistance centers located in communities across the
state to assist troops and their families, particularly
those who are impacted by deployment. These centers aren't
there to fix the problem, Nelson explained, but to ensure
families are directed to the resource or person who can.
Military people are very proud, and typically are
hesitant to accept help unless they're in crisis mode,
O'Reilly noted. “It takes time to build the trust of
military members and their families,” she said. “We're
hoping to build relationships now, so families know who to
turn to for help when needed,” whether it's with shoveling
snow, bringing in crops or helping with home maintenance or
child care issues.
“With the work we're doing now,
building relationships, when there's a need, the
relationship will be there,” she said.
By Elaine Wilson|
American Forces Press Service
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