By Sgt. 1st Class Mark BellApril 6, 2009
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Aca,!" The 81st Regional Support Command executed another successful Yellow Ribbon Reintegration mission here after three months of methodical planning, coordinating with dozens of outside organizations and ensuring Soldiers had orders and plane tickets in hand.
Just as quickly as Soldiers who participated in the workshop completed their final evaluations after the three-day weekend event, the small Family Programs team, led by William Allen, huddled in the operations center to discuss how to make the next event, scheduled only three weeks away, better.
Aca,!A"Someone tell me how we can make this better in Orlando,Aca,!A? Allen asked his near-exhausted staff who has spent the past five days preparing and executing a near-perfect workshop. Aca,!A"I want to hear some good things and what we need to improve for next month.Aca,!A?
From name tags to positioning of informational booths, the 81st RSC Family Programs director, Christy Burns, kept a quick journal of the meeting.
Burns, who recently took the helm of Family Programs for the command, said the success was driven by the closeness of the team and the ability to solve issues quickly.
Aca,!A"Teamwork is the essence of our success,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"From the very beginning when we arrived here, until we closed up and got everyone on their way back home, our team has made this a great event for Soldiers.Aca,!A?
With thousands of Reserve Soldiers deploying and returning from combat zones each year, the 81st RSC and the three other regional support commands are responsible for ensuring Reserve veterans who attend these workshops 30, 60 and 90 days after their redeployment, get the information they need to be successful once they are back with their families and in their home towns.
Aca,!A"It can be painful, but the feedback we are getting from the Soldiers is that all the planning and coordinating is well worth the effort,Aca,!A? Allen said.
As Sgt. 1st Class Dwayne Marshall ensured participants had transportation back to the airport here, other staff members signed orders, printed certificates, secured personal baggage and answered the barrage of questions from workshop participants.
Aca,!A"Actually, starting on Monday we are going full speed on the next one after the next one,Aca,!A? Allen said laughing about how quickly the workshops sneak up on the team. Aca,!A"We are already full steam on the event in Orlando.Aca,!A?
Allen said there is never time to rest when it comes to taking care of Soldiers.
Aca,!A"These events are important to make sure they have the right information to help them with the reintegration process,Aca,!A? he said.
As Allen orchestrated his small staff through the maze of hallways and conference rooms on two floors of the large downtown hotel here, he was constantly engaged in conversations by participants with random questions, coordinating instructions with hotel staff or, in a rare instance, leaning against the nearest wall exchanging life stories with Soldiers Aca,!" taking a mental break from the organized chaos.
Allen said the biggest challenge to a workshop of this magnitude is ensuring the individual Soldier knows about the event and its true purpose.
Aca,!A"The hardest part is making sure we get the word out to Soldiers and families about what this event is all about,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"This event is designed to help them reintegrate with their families and communities.Aca,!A?
He said Soldiers need to understand these events are not taking them away from their families, but bringing them to a place where they can get a first-hand opportunity to work with the resources available to them.
Aca,!A"We want them to work with the providers that are in place here to support their reintegration process,Aca,!A? he said.
Allen said the biggest illusion about the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program is that Soldiers feel they are compelled to attend yet another Army training event designed to fill a need or requirement.
Aca,!A"But, it is really designed and developed to provide them with important, valuable resources,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs a program designed to be about them.Aca,!A?
He said he hopes Soldiers leave the workshop knowing there are resources out there for them during their post-deployment cycle.
During the workshop, U.S. Army Reserve Ambassador Dave Kratzer, a retired Reserve major general, observed and talked with Soldiers about their experiences during the workshop.
Kratzer said the 81st RSC should be commended for their efforts to help the combat veterans and their families.
Aca,!A"This is a wonderful program, and a lot of resources have been put into this program to take care of Soldiers and families during pre-deployment, during deployments and post deployment.Aca,!A?
Kratzer said this particular program is extremely important after Soldiers redeploy from combat zones. It gives them resources and tools to help them in their reintegration process.
Aca,!A"The 81st does it in a wonderful location where we get a beautiful hotel and some very nice facilities, so people can relax and talk to important people here like chaplains and family-support people,Aca,!A? he said.
Kratzer was impressed with the number of outside organizations like the United Service Organization and Veteran Affairs that were available to Soldiers.
Aca,!A"This is just a wonderful combination of things we did not have for Soldiers during previous wars,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"We learned an awful lot from our past.Aca,!A?
Kratzer hopes that what young Soldiers take away from this event are not the things spoken but rather the personal connections with other Soldiers in the same situation.
Aca,!A"I think the best thing we can offer these Soldiers is the ability to come back and be with others just like them and realize their experiences are probably like a lot of other people in the same situation,Aca,!A? he said.
The worst thing a Soldier needs to feel is that they are the only one with his or her experiences and feelings, Kratzer said.
Aca,!A"They need to know there are resources out there that can help them,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"I hope they consider staying in and making this a career for themselves because all this experience they gained could be given back to others in the future.Aca,!A?
After the last workshop participant boarded a bus and the conference room doors closed for the final time at the workshop, the 81st RSC team of civilians and Soldiers will head back to Alabama and South Carolina, and all points in between, to begin the process all over.
Next stop for the team, Orlando Fla.