Yellow Ribbon, a bridge to a 'sea of goodwill'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kimberly Hickey
  • 934 Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Airmen and their families from across the 10-state northern region gathered in Arlington, Va. for an Air Force Reserve Command Yellow Ribbon mobilization and reintegration event, Aug. 19-21, 2011.

     Yellow Ribbon is a Congress-mandated, Department of Defense led reintegration program for servicemembers at various points within the deployment cycle. Several events are held across the country for servicemembers in pre and 30-to-60 day post-deployment status. The state-led program that launched what later became the DoD Yellow Ribbon program began in Minnesota, said keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. Kelly K. McKeague, the Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard matters, at the Pentagon. 

     "The 34th Division was being pulled for multiple deployments, and Minnesota started doing some very incredible things engendering support from the local community," McKegaue said. "A Minnesota congressman happened to be a former Army Guardsman. He put in the bill, and from there Congress saw the value in it."  Yellow Ribbon has evolved into a DoD program ideally suited to the needs of guardsmen and reservists.

     "When we come back from deployment, we get spread to the winds," McKeague said. "It's not like we come back to Fort Bragg or Dover Air Force Base, and we have a cocoon of a military installation. You may be in a town where you are the only military member. "  Yellow Ribbon's mission is to facilitate reintegration. Each service with a National Guard or reserve component has its own program, although a joint-services pilot event is being held in Dallas, Tx. in August 2011.  The program is results-driven and progressive.

     "There is a feedback mechanism," McKeague said. "When we hear from servicemembers and their families, the program is further tailored. When we first started out, it was death by Power Point, and we were losing our audience. "  Yellow Ribbon is now more dynamic and oriented to the needs of military families.   "There was a family element that needed to be here."

     President Barack Obama approved and signed a report titled, Strengthening Our Military Families, in 2010 pledging assistance from more than 15 government agencies to support the needs of military families. Yellow Ribbon is one initiative among a growing number that provide a port or bridge to a 'sea of goodwill', as described by  McKeague.  In Arlington, Yellow Ribbon vendor participants were available to discuss programs to assist military families. Program participants included the Key Spouse program, the Red Cross, and the Department of Veterans Affairs and several others.

     Nancy McKeague, Maj. Gen. McKeague's wife of 27 years, participated in a breakout session as an advocate for the Key Spouse Program. She discussed coping skills shared with her by other military spouses while their partners were deployed. One woman described deployment as a time she could grow closer to her children, Mrs. McKeague said. She developed activities that she and her children participated in only when her husband was deployed. That way, there were always special things they did only when their father was home, and it helped them cope, she said.  "Some of the biggest struggles are for our newest spouses," Mrs. McKeague said. "They struggle with understanding why their spouses want to go back overseas when they just got back. It's that they have a cause they believe in." Mrs. McKeague recommended all Airmen and their spouses visit for assistance throughout the deployment cycle. She is also an advocate for the Key Spouse program.

     Key Spouse volunteers provide support by contacting other spouses who are coping with various issues that may come up while their military spouse is deployed. 
"Key Spouse volunteers help other spouses get their lawns mowed, adjust to being alone, pay bills, and discuss children's behavioral issues," said Cynthia Lum, a Key Spouse volunteer at the Pittsburgh Air Reserve Base in Pennsylvania. "My son has been on six deployments," she said. "We know how it feels." 
Stress to servicemembers and their families comes from many sources. Money matters are a particular struggle. 
"Save more than you think you have to," said Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Vrnal, Base Education, 934th Airlift Wing, Minneapolis, Minn. "Something will happen. It always does."

     Vrnal said she struggled with major appliances that stopped working and a flooded basement during her and her ex-husband's previous deployments. 
"My biggest stressor was my employer," said Lynn Weber, wife of Master Sgt. Mathew Weber, an aerial port specialist with the 27th Aerial Port Squadron, 934th AW. 
Her husband's deployments required her to take more time off from work because he was unavailable to assist with caring for their children, she said. Although there was a lot of information available for assistance with her husband's employer, there wasn't for hers, she said. She hopes that will change in the future.

     Yellow Ribbon attempts to align servicemembers and their families with the right resources and lower frustration, General McKeague said. 
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Ralph DeVaul, a consultant and chaplain recruiter for the Yellow Ribbon program, facilitated breakout sessions on resiliency, marriage enrichment and single service member issues. He also coordinated Sunday services for attendees. 
Although the majority of our servicemembers and their families are Christian, about 2 percent practice other faiths, said DeVaul, including Islam or pagan religions such as Wiccan. We serve all of our servicemembers, and we look out for signs of spiritual stress, he said.

     Stress to servicemembers and their families can come from many sources. However, Yellow Ribbon is a bridge program to connect servicemembers to the right resources.
"America wants to help," said Maj. Gen. McKeague. "Businesses, universities, vocational schools and medical organizations recognize the unique challenges that armed servicemembers and their families face. They just don't know how." Yellow Ribbon has a unique role to bridge the way to a 'sea of goodwill.' 
I think events like this can be that bridge to increase awareness so that members are armed with information that's available, he said. 

Upon conclusion of his keynote speech, General McKeague expressed this departing thought to attendees: 
"Each of you has volunteered to serve in the greatest military in the world, and you have been asked to give inordinate sacrifices. That has not been lost on this country and its citizens."

     For more information on upcoming Yellow Ribbon events, please visit the Yellow Ribbon program website at or inquire at your base chaplain's office. You may also visit AFRC's Yellow Ribbon page on