• Reserve Cpl. Benjamin Sykora cuddles with his 5-day-old daughter Yves before the Yellow Ribbon Pre-Mobilization Briefing on March 8 at the Officers and Civilians Club. Sykora’s wife, Crystal, will get lots of support from family and friends when he deploys to Iraq with the 375th Engineer Company.

    Serving for Newborn

    Reserve Cpl. Benjamin Sykora cuddles with his 5-day-old daughter Yves before the Yellow Ribbon Pre-Mobilization Briefing on March 8 at the Officers and Civilians Club. Sykora’s wife, Crystal, will get lots of support from family and friends when he...

  • Soldiers and families of the 375th Engineer Company pack the ballroom at the Officers and Civilians Club during the Yellow Ribbon Pre-Mobilization Briefing on March 8. The daylong event involved presenters from a host of military organizations that will provide services and programs for the company’s families when its 181 Soldiers deploy to Iraq in May.

    Full House

    Soldiers and families of the 375th Engineer Company pack the ballroom at the Officers and Civilians Club during the Yellow Ribbon Pre-Mobilization Briefing on March 8. The daylong event involved presenters from a host of military organizations that...

Deploying to Iraq is not a new experience for Reserve Spc. Brandon Hall.

But it is for his wife, Raeneal, their infant daughter Alivia and their yet unborn daughter Audrey.

So, while Hall completes additional war fighter training and gets ready for a one-year deployment, his eight-months pregnant wife wants to learn everything she can about Army services, benefits and family support programs that will help her care for two daughters while her husband is away.

For that reason, the couple appreciated the opportunity to participate in an information-packed Army Reserve Yellow Ribbon Pre-Mobilization Briefing on March 8 in preparation for the deployment of 181 Soldiers of the 375th Engineer Company. The six-hour briefing at the Officers and Civilians Club involved presentations on everything the military has to offer families, from Tricare, the Post Exchange and veterans benefits to entitlements, legal issues and services provided by Army Community Service, Military One Source, Family Morale Welfare and Recreation, and the American Red Cross.

"I want to know how to get support if I need it. I want to know how to send care packages," Raeneal Hall said. "I want to learn everything I can today about the help I can get while he's gone."

Before the couple were married, Hall deployed twice to Iraq with the active Army. In 2003-04, he served in Baghdad and Tal Afar. In 2005-06, he served in Tikrit. Both deployments were during times of heightened terrorist activity.

"You have to remember to stay alert, stay alive," said Hall, referring to the advice he gives his fellow Reservists. "The second time I was there nearly every day someone from our unit would get hurt. We only had 10 days when no one was hurt.

"I heard it's a lot better now. And we won't be infantry. We're engineering. But when you leave that wire, you have the same uniform as everybody else and they don't discriminate. You have to expect the worst and hope for the best."

Hall is a member of the 663rd Reserves out of Decatur. He volunteered to deploy with the 375th primarily for economic reasons.

"I got laid off from my job and my wife's pregnant," he said.

But his reasons run deeper than a paycheck.

"I wanted to do something a little extra for my country," he said of his five years as a Soldier and of his reason for joining the Reserves in 2007. "I'm doing this for my country. I feel good about this deployment."

The Yellow Ribbon event involved a standing-room-only crowd in the club ballroom, where presenters from various military and community organizations provided general overview information. Soldiers and families were also welcome to visit the dining room in the club, where presenters were set up at booths to provide one-on-one counseling and information. The day's activities also included comments from decorated Iraqi war veteran Col. Mark Smith, commander of Fox Army Health Center, and recognition of employers who make it possible for their employees to serve in the Reserves.

"As they are preparing to answer their nation's call, we see our responsibility as addressing the three-legged stool of the Reserves, and that three-legged stool includes the Soldier, the employer and the family. We touch all three of those at an event like this," said Lt. Col. Adam Roth, commander of the 325 Soldiers of the 844th Engineer Battalion of Knoxville.

The 844th, which oversees the activities of the 375th, will deploy to Iraq at the end of March. The 844th and the 375th work under the motto "Earth to Sky" in recognition of their work as a construction and building entity within the Reserves.

"This is a family affair," Roth said of the Yellow Ribbon event. "Soldiering is from the heart. Your being here is a true testament of your commitment not only to your fellow Reservists but also to your families and your country."

Speaking to the Soldiers on behalf of the local community, Madison Mayor Paul Finley said "as a community we are so appreciative of what you - men and women - Soldiers are getting ready to do for our freedom."

The Garrison is committed to supporting the families of the 375th while their Soldiers are deployed, said Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Cooper.

"The Garrison is here for your family while you're gone," Cooper, a decorated Iraqi war veteran, told the Soldiers in the audience. "Your focus is supposed to be on your mission downrange. You need to be worried about the Soldier to your right and the Soldier to your left, not about what's going on with your spouse or family back here. Take care of your mission and we'll take care of your family here."

Those words were reiterated by 1st Lt. David Borders, commander of the 375th.

"It is imperative that we as Soldiers focus on our mission," he said. "If we are not in the frame of mind to handle the battle we're in or the situation we're in, then it's going to put ourselves and our battle buddies in danger."

The 375th's 1st Sgt. Daryl Owens, known as "Papa Bear" in the unit for being the senior enlisted Soldier, said the Yellow Ribbon event will help Soldiers get themselves in the right mindset for a deployment.

"We are all Soldiers. We take care of one another. We take care of our families. And that's what makes us unique," he said.

Borders said the day of information may have been overwhelming for families. But organizational handouts and contact information should help Soldiers and spouses with managing the information.

"We have every aspect of military life we could think about represented here to help our families," he said.

The day "accomplished a tremendous amount," said organizer John Perry, a retired Reserve command sergeant major. "It was a team effort on the part of our volunteers to provide Soldiers and their families with a ton of information. About two-thirds of the unit have not been deployed, and those are the people we were targeting."

Once her husband deploys, Raeneal Hall will have the support of her mother, brother, mother-in-law and other family members who live near the family's home in Cullman. But others may not have such a strong family support network.

"Once these Soldiers leave, they are going to have to rely on us in the community," Perry said. "We are going to have to be their second family."

That community family also refers to family members within the unit who will learn to turn to each other for support. Angila Kienlen, mother of Reserve Pfc. Dominick Kienlen of Cleveland, Tenn., is new to the Army life, yet she has already "adopted" other young Soldiers in the unit.

"I've become a mom to all of them," she said. "I'm learning the Army jargon. I'm learning about this Army that I've been thrust into by my son."

Kienlen appreciated the Yellow Ribbon day of information.

"I need to be educated in every area from the ground up," she said. "Being a new military mom, I'm very inquisitive. The better informed I am, the more peace I have and the more help I can be to those of us left behind."

Editor's note: A community-wide deployment ceremony for the 375th will be held April 11 at 3 p.m. in the auditorium at Butler High School. The public is invited.

Page last updated Wed March 18th, 2009 at 17:47