By Lt. Col. Jay ShifflerJanuary 16, 2009
WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. (Army News Service, Jan. 16, 2009) -- While "Old Man Winter" was blowing another mid-western snow storm through Wisconsin Dells, more than 170 Army Reserve Soldiers of the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion and their families were treated to a weekend of fun and information at an indoor water park and resort Jan. 10-11 as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon.
Recently returned from a year-long deployment to Iraq, unit members and their families were provided two nights lodging at the Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort, meals, childcare and the opportunity to listen to various speakers to assist them with post-deployment issues they might be experiencing.
"We know a deployment is tough for anyone and we want to help our Soldiers and families reintegrate," said Lt. Col. Rich Appel of Chilton, Wis., and the 432nd Rear Detachment battalion commander.
While delivering opening remarks Appel said, "We need you to get this information and share it --we have to take care of each other and take care of our own. Our Soldiers and their families need to know what's out there to help them. Whether its marriage counseling or health care benefits, help is out there."
Appel said the goal of the weekend was to expose unit members to information they will need in the weeks and months to come. He said the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program covers a variety of topics Soldiers will need.
Attendees were given the opportunity to listen and ask questions to speakers on topics such as TRICARE, Marriage Counseling, and Substance Abuse and Awareness.
"Based on the reports we hear from the field, these are the types of issues that Soldiers need help with," said Ruth Barefoot, director of Family Programs at the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operation Command. "This is more than just telling them what to do, but rather where to go and introducing them to people who will actually go to bat for them."
Family members said they were impressed with the event and benefited from the networking.
"It's important to come to these events to get the tools needed for a deployment and connect with others. Deployments can be difficult, especially for families in the Army Reserve, because we tend to be isolated from other military families," said Mary Gundrum of New Berlin, Wis., whose husband deployed with the 432nd. "Events like these are especially important for military kids because they need to feel connected with others-they need to feel honored and that they are a part of something bigger. Children need to be thanked for their sacrifices," said Gundrum.
Brian Gilbertson, whose son Pfc. Bryce Cook deployed with the 432nd, was glad all family members were able to participate in the event. "It's been good to see other family members and the information presented has been useful," said Gilbertson.
The conference had counselors and military chaplains on hand at the resort where couples could meet privately to discuss their marital problems.
"We came here to let Soldiers and their families know how we can help. When there are difficulties in a marriage, a deployment can make them worse," said Maj. Thomas Eddy, USACAOPOC (A) chaplain. "One program we're proud of is the Strong Bond Workshop, where couples get to travel to an offsite location, listen to speakers discuss marriage enrichment strategies and at the conclusion of the workshop are provided an opportunity to renew their wedding vows."
"We know in order to have a strong Soldier, there's a strong family circle for support and it's up to us to facilitate that support," said Barefoot.
Organizers of the weekend's event at the Wilderness Resort said they enjoyed the facilities and the number of family members that signed up for the event. Billie Wilson, the Family Readiness coordinator for the 353rd CACOM said it's good to see the children and wives of the deployed Soldiers playing and talking together.
"We heard so much about some of the guys they deployed with having spent the year waiting for their loved ones to return from Iraq, many of the family members met for the first time at the resort and provided them a chance to talk about the challenges of deployments. Soldiers have battle buddies and family member have their own battle buddies," Wilson said.
Conference organizers said they continue to plan for follow-on workshops.
"This has been a great success and we're looking forward to the next one. I think we're going to take some lessons learned for this conference and apply them to the next one - namely give family members more time to talk to each other," said Barefoot. "Family members have indicated they would like more time for personal networking and smaller group discussions and that's something we need to implement for our follow-on conferences."