By Sgt. 1st Class Alyn-Michael Macleod, 99th Regional Support Command Public Affairs March 7, 2012
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (March 4, 2012) - Army Reserve Soldiers who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan sometimes encounter a different kind of fog of war when returning to the states, leaving these hometown heroes feeling lost and unsatisfied with their commitment to their nation.
Addressing this concern, the Secretary of Defense initiated the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program in 2008. The program provides information, services, referral, and proactive outreach programs to Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen in the reserve component and their families through all phases of the deployment cycle.
Even through the four Army Reserve regional support commands located throughout the United States regularly host multiple Yellow Ribbon events, the 99th Regional Support Command Yellow Ribbon Program is taking the lead in customer care for returning Soldiers by creating two pilot programs that will alleviate some of the stress that Soldiers and their family members may encounter while heading to an event.
"The one challenge we have is getting the Soldiers to the Yellow Ribbon event," said Anna Gomez, program director for the Yellow Ribbon Program at the 99th RSC. "Our No Shows are our challenge; whether it is for Defense Travel System (DTS) issues or getting orders from their [the Soldiers] units, that is our main challenge."
Gomez and her team decided after reading numerous after-action reviews that they needed to make some changes, so they streamlined the process for the Soldiers and their family members to attend the events.
"We do the Soldiers' RLAS orders and we work with our finance group to assist them in their DTS," Gomez said. "For instance, if their family does not have a profile, we assist them in having their families have an Invitational Travel Order and our finance personnel will assign them a cross line of accounting, so we know they will be here because we have helped them."
As soon as the 99th implemented this pilot program, there was a noticeable increase in Soldiers and family members participating in the program and a decrease in No Shows.
"Our numbers have increased with us doing their orders," said Gomez. "We hope to get all of the O&F commands on board to let us cut the orders so that we will know that these folks will definitely be here."
Not every Soldier is the same and has different needs as they look for information that will set them up for success after deployment. Listening to the Soldiers' concerns, Gomez and her team implemented a workshop pilot program so the Soldiers have more control over what classes they want to get information from.
"They were looking for more one-on-one informative briefings for certain resources such as finances, so we decided to do a workshop giving them more time and opening it up to everyone, not just a particular event," Gomez said. "It's like a la carte, you can go to any workshop you want that's going to benefit you."
Soldiers are required to attend four out of the six workshops that can include classes such as Enlisted Promotions, Personal Finance Counseling, Communication Skills, Drug and Alcohol, Educational Services and résumé building, just to name a few.
Soldiers in the Yellow Ribbon Program are required to attend a total of seven events.
Events 1 and 2 are for Soldiers and their families at the onset of a deployment. These events assist everyone for the separation. Events 3 and 4 are for family members only and are often used to see how the family is doing and to assist them in planning the Soldier's homecoming.
Events 5,6, and 7 of the program are two-day events that happen 30, 60 and 90 days after the Soldier returns home and is released from active duty, and include information on current benefits and resources available to help overcome the stress and challenges of reintegration.
Having been deployed, Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Castelveter, command sergeant major of the 99th RSC, can identify with the different stresses and pressures a family goes through and understands the importance of the Yellow Ribbon Program to the Soldiers and their families.
"We are a family and we are here as a family to watch each other's back, to help each other and to let them know after they served this great country of ours that we are not just going to say thank you and good bye," explained Castelveter during a recent Yellow Ribbon Event in Niagara Falls, N.Y., for approximately 240 Soldiers and their families.
"We will not forget our Soldiers and their families," Castelveter concluded.