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DoD committed to supporting Guardmembers, families

By Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke | National Guard Bureau | July 27, 2009

ARLINGTON, Va. - The Department of Defense is committed to supporting Guard and Reserve members and their families through policies that maintain strong family programs and innovative efforts, such as the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, a senior DoD official told lawmakers July 22.

"They have unique issues and opportunities,” said Air Force Col. Cory Lyman, the assistant director of individual and family support policy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. "Great responsibilities have been placed on the shoulders of Guard and Reserve members and their families.”

Lyman and several other DoD representatives testified in a hearing before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel. Lyman said reserve component family programs address family needs that differ in "meaningful ways” from active component families.

"For instance, Guard and Reserve families are community-based and connected,” he said. "They're also dispersed geographically across some 4,000 communities nationwide. These realities create challenges and also offer great opportunities to link with community resources.”

Lyman said that one advantage to the geographic dispersal of the reserve components is that friends and neighbors become more aware of a Guard family’s sacrifices.

"I think that these families many times approach their challenges with tremendous courage and grace,” he said. "And the people around them may not see the kinds of pressures under which they're functioning.”

Lyman added that since these families live off of military installations, it is important to build awareness within their communities.

Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston said he believes the reserve components provide a vital link to the American public.

"When there's a natural disaster, and it's … those Soldiers out there that are providing relief in those communities, they're the ones that really directly impact and make an impact on Americans out there in those communities.”

To help reserve component members through the deployment cycle, the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program was developed and "it works hand in hand with the family program to enhance family readiness, and it helps to smooth many of the potential challenges of military deployments,” Lyman said.

He added that the department will continue to collaborate with the many agencies and programs that help deliver critical family programs to Guard and Reserve members and their families.

Rep. Dave Loebsack of Iowa said he has heard several complaints about the Yellow Ribbon Program, including: families are alienated by the overuse of PowerPoint presentations; meetings are held during drills, which leads to the misperception that they are only for Guard members; Veterans Affairs should be involved to provide one-on-one counseling, assistance with paperwork and an explanation of benefits; and finally meetings are not required to be held over a certain period of time, which leads to meetings being held close together.

He said often the stress does not appear for several weeks or months after a Guard member returns home. Lyman said with the help of DoD’s Office of Military Family and Community Policy, kits have been provided to Guard units that will help make these events more "family friendly.”

These kits are provided to each joint force headquarters in the National Guard, and they include a "movie in a box” and other activities to involve children in these events. Lyman said these meetings are often held at the local armory, but it is recommended that "they be held in a location where the family can feel relaxed and get the message that they are important to the military and that we want them to participate and feel welcomed.”

The Centers of Excellent for Yellow Ribbon Reintegration will be the clearinghouse for feedback from family members and will help to formulate best practices that can be pushed to the states.

Also, an advisory group has been established, which will provide some guidance and direction to the program. Lyman said there is an effort at the local level to assess these events to make sure that they are continually improving.

Negative experiences could be very detrimental to the program, "and we've got to make sure that across the board we have a high level of excellence and the people feel like. This is something I want to come back to,” he said.