News>Keeping The Balance: Reservists balance deployed and home life with help of the Yellow Ribbon Program
Ponte Vedra, Fla. -- There was something for everyone at the Yellow Ribbon Program’s Southeast Region event, held at a hotel in Ponte Vedra, Fla., July 23-24. While parents were gaining the tools needed to survive a deployment, their kida were being cared for nearby. The YRP is a Department of Defense initiative offering a wide range of specialized support and information to military members and families of the Air Force Reserve and National Guard to help them cope with the unique stresses of military deployments. The recent YRP event brought together attendees from Duke Field and several other Southeast region military installations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Terry Lisenbee)
Ponte Vedra, Fla. -- Major General Charles Luckey, the assistant to the Joint Cheifs Of Staff for Reserve Matters, addresses a crowd of reservists and their families at the Yellow Ribbon Program seminar. Luckey was the keynote speaker and discussed the importance of maintaining readiness while still being a member of a community. (Official U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Rhodes)
by Staff Sgt. Shawn Rhodes
927th Air Refueling Wing
8/8/2011 - Ponte Vedra, Fla. -- When Nate Veals heard he would be deploying to Afghanistan, he was afraid. Not of losing his job as a manager at McDonald's, and not of what he would face during war. The Senior Airman had been in the Air Force Reserves for three years, and trained for combat. What he feared most was the last thing he needed to worry about while fighting in Afghanistan:
"My biggest fear was leaving my family," Veals said.
Like many reservists, Veals is being called upon to leave his community, his job and his family to serve alongside active-duty servicemembers in every clime and place. Reservists like Veals have not traditionally had a support network to care for their families while they were deployed, nor did they have any counseling to re-integrate back into their civilian lives. Until now.
The Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP) hosted 212 reservists and family members recently in Ponte Vedra, Fla., giving them tools everyone needs to survive a deployment. Veals was fortunate; he was able to take advantage of the program both before and after his deployment to Afghanistan.
"At the first Yellow Ribbon event, I realized it wasn't just me and my unit deploying," Veals said. An avionics technician with the 403rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Keesler AFB, Veals quickly learned the sense of community the YRP promotes. "Being there made me realize that every reserve unit deploys, and that all of our families are in the same boat."
Unlike many active duty troops Veals served alongside, he had the knowledge and a unique support network to help him - and his family - survive. And it is something that his fiancé is extremely thankful for.
"In the active duty ranks, people have to seek their own answers. Here at the YRP, it is all laid out for you," said Staff Sgt. Terri Wilson. She knows what a disadvantage this puts active duty servicemembers at, because she had to deploy as one herself. Wilson is an active-duty member of the Air Force and a unit training manager with the 345th Airlift Squadron. When her fiancé Veals deployed to Afghanistan, they both made use of the YRP. She said "The program sets up reservists before they go, and then cares for them when they get back."
Air Force Reservists and their immediate families can attend the YRP events, located at resort hotels around the nation. They are eligible to attend before a deployment, and then twice after they return at the 30 and 60-day marks. The weekend workshop involves sessions ranging from emotional well-being to financial management, and can be tailored by each family's situation so they get the most out of the classes.
Woven throughout the sessions is the unique understanding that all the reservists are playing multiple roles in their lives - one of a warrior and the other of a businessperson and parent. This understanding was emphasized by the keynote speaker at the event; a man who understands better than most what it is like to balance the roles.
"The challenge for reservists is to keep them ready to perform," said Maj. Gen. Charles Luckey, assistant to the Joint Chiefs Of Staff for Reserve Matters. Luckey has served with the reserves for almost twenty years and has an important role as the advisor on all things 'reserve' of the military. Although keeping reserves operationally affective is important, he also sees a need for balance: "We need to keep the reservists ready, but not so ready that they can't hold a job."
Luckey addressed the crowd of reservists and their families on the first day of the seminar. He said the modern military faces many challenges as it attempts to balance the civilian and military lives of its reservists. In the past, the reserves were not called upon as much as today and the increasing rotations are taking a toll on reserve forces. That is why Luckey advocated for the importance of having a program like Yellow Ribbon available to all servicemembers.
"If we are going to have an operational reserve and also try to reintegrate them back into society, then we need to get more efficient with the process," Luckey said. "Reservists get pulled out of communities across America to deploy. When they return, we need to have a support system taking care of spouses so they know where to go for help."
Luckey mentioned that less than one percent of Americans serve in the Armed Forces today, and that is a reflection on the character of those who choose to serve their country.
"All of you in this room have volunteered to support and defend the constitution of the United States," Luckey said. "And the spouses here have volunteered to stick around with these folks while they do that. I wouldn't be with any other group of people."
YRP was initiated by the Secretary of Defense and mandated by Congress in 2008 to provide information, services, referral and proactive outreach programs to Reservists and Guardsmen and their dependents through all phases of deployment cycles. The program's goals are to prepare servicemembers and their families for mobilization, sustain families during mobilization, and reintegrate servicemembers with their families and communities upon return from deployments.