By Sgt. 1st Class Mark BellJanuary 12, 2011
Orlando, Fl. - Plane tickets, travel orders and navigating one of the busiest airports in Florida to find the right transportation bus are just some of the obstacles for Soldiers and families attending one of the monthly Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program workshops here.
Helping those Soldiers and families attend each event is a small staff of four civilian employees of the 81st Regional Support Command located more than 400 miles north at Fort Jackson, S.C.
As hundreds of Soldiers and families arrived at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort on Jan. 7, a small army of volunteers helped mothers with hungry children, assisted fathers with wandering youth and corralled teenagers looking for a shuttle to one of the numerous family hotspots.
From ensuring hundreds of nametags matched the right person to positioning dozens of informational booths throughout the massive conference center, the 81st RSC Family Programs director, Christa Burns, kept a watchful eye out for potential problems.
Burns said the success was driven by the closeness of the team and the ability to solve issues quickly.
"Teamwork is the essence of our success," she said. "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."
Helping Burns and her staff are more than a dozen volunteers from all walks of life. Husbands, wives and Soldiers from other commands put on the yellow ribbon support staff badge and rolled up their sleeves to accomplish the mission.
One familiar face to Army Reserve families who have returned for their second or third workshop is 81st RSC volunteer Laura Ramsey.
Ramsey, who has assisted YRRP staff at every event in 2010, said she believes in the mission to help families reunite and reintegrate after a deployment.
"I'm a huge military supporter," she said. "I have a dog in the fight. My son is in the military."
As Ramsey helped families sign into the workshop, another volunteer, Pfc. Albert Cortez, was busy making sure guests were not lost throughout the large resort.
Cortez, a member of the 689th Engineer Company (Combat), said he enjoys the long weekend away from his scheduled battle assemblies.
"Being a volunteer here is a great experience for me," he said. "When I see that 'light bulb' go off on the faces of these families, I know that they got it. How much effort goes on behind the scenes at this event is mind boggling."
He said he hopes the families walk away from the event with the right information to be successful after the deployment.
"I can take pride in the fact I was part of the success, he said. "The reason we are here is to help. We want to make sure these Soldiers and families have a positive event and know we are here to help and assist them."
Cortez and other volunteers began their work several days before the first guest stepped off the airplane.
Printing out hundreds of workshop itineraries, ensuring hotel reservations are correctly filled out and moving hundreds of pounds of equipment to the right place are just a few of the details important to a successful YRRP mission.
"Our volunteers are some of the best people the Army Reserve has," said Burns about her small team. "If it weren't for them, there is no way we could ever get something this big off the ground and do it at the high caliber level we do here at the 81st RSC."
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 Mark Daniels, huddled in the operations center on several occasions to discuss how to make the next event better.
With thousands of Reserve Soldiers deploying and returning from combat zones each year, the 81st RSC and the three other regional support commands will continue to lean on volunteers to make the YRRP the best event for the Army Reserve families.
"These families deserve the best," said Ramsey. "As a mother, I know if my son ever returns from a deployment from a combat zone, he will have the best information in his hands and mind because there will be people, like myself, who really care about their reintegration back into their communities."
After the last workshop participant boarded a bus and the conference room doors closed for the final time at the workshop, the 81st RSC volunteer team of civilians and Soldiers will head back to South Carolina, and all points in between, to begin the process all over.