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Family Programs News
NEWS | Sept. 14, 2009

Deployment specialists reach out to Florida troops, families

By Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa Florida National Guard

ORLANDO - Pre-deployment experts from the Florida Army National Guard’s Yellow Ribbon Program reached out to more than 1,200 Soldiers and family members this weekend, helping them mentally and fiscally prepare for an upcoming deployment to Iraq.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is congressionally mandated to provide informational events and activities for the reserve components and their Families, and support them throughout the deployment cycle.

Florida’s Yellow Ribbon specialists held events in Orlando on Sept. 12 and Mt. Dora on Sept. 13 for Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, who will be deploying to Iraq early next year.

A smaller contingent of Florida Army National Guard Soldiers from Special Operations Detachment – Central, who are deploying to Europe next week, were also in attendance for the Orlando Yellow Ribbon event.

"We bring together resources and vendors to educate the Soldiers and their Families about the benefits that will be available to them before, during and after the deployment,” explained Yellow Ribbon Coordinator for the Florida Army National Guard Maj. Sarah McLevy.

The Soldiers and their families learned about the numerous benefits and entitlements provided by the Department of Defense to deploying Guard members, including legal and financial counseling, TRICARE services, and education services.

McLevy, who was deployed with the Florida National Guard to Iraq in 2007-2008, said she knows first-hand how important these briefing are to Soldiers and families.

"Because we are National Guard Soldiers we don’t have an active duty base right next door to our families,” she explained. "Our families live in Plant City. They live in Palatka. They live in small towns that don’t have an active duty base close by. We give them the resources that they can just call, and it’s at their fingertips.”

The Florida National Guard Yellow Ribbon Program is also becoming an innovator among other Yellow Ribbon Programs throughout the nation: according to McLevy Florida is the first state to have a separate briefing for parents of deploying Soldiers.

"We’ve learned that a lot of these single Soldiers have parents who are taking care of their stuff while they’re gone,” she explained. "We’ve actually gotten with the military family life consultants and they come in and give a briefing to the parents of the Soldiers to help them cope. When we bring parents in to this event we pay their travel just like we pay the travel for a spouse.”

She noted that nearly 60 parents of deploying Soldiers attended a recent Yellow Ribbon briefing in Panama City, Fla.

But just getting the information to the Families isn’t enough, McLevy said. She stressed that the Soldiers and Families need to know how and when to ask for assistance during a deployment cycle.

McLevy estimated that Florida’s Yellow Ribbon Program would reach out to more than 7,000 Soldiers and Family members throughout the state by the end of the year.