TUCSON, Ariz. --
For members of the armed forces and families dealing with deployment related issues, there are so many support programs and benefits available that members and spouses admit finding the right resource can be a problem within itself.
The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, a new deployment support service, held its first Tucson event Aug. 21 and 22 at the Westin La Paloma resort. It helped 158 recently redeployed members of the Arizona National Guard and their families make sense of all the Department of Defense, Veteran's Affairs and state systems set up to help ease the transition from deployment life to family life.
On a national level, Yellow Ribbon fulfills the requirement for establishing a combat veteran reintegration program. Its goal is to prepare servicemembers and their families for mobilization, sustain families during mobilization, and reintegrate Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen with their families, communities, and employers upon redeployment.
"This weekend's event was organized for the security forces members at the 162nd Fighter Wing who recently returned from Iraq," said Charles Wade, an Air National Guard event coordinator from Phoenix. "There are also Army Guardsmen here today from the Tucson-based Company A of the 158th Infantry Battalion. They were invited because this is the first event like this held in town."
Wade said participation in the event was mandatory for the Guardsmen in attendance, and though it was a paid duty day for Soldiers and Airmen, event hosts ensured a relaxed environment for open communication.
"For us it was a good thing. They put us up in this nice hotel for two nights. It's like a mini vacation. It's been good for my wife to be here as well because she gets to see how well our families are supported," said Capt. Ben Swope, 162nd Security Forces Squadron commander.
Swope, who serves as a Border Patrol agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in his civilian job, deployed to Iraq for five months with 30 members of his squadron. He said he received good information for his family and for his troops.
"We've heard a lot a of guest speakers that were pretty compelling," he said.
After opening remarks from Military OneSource, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), and TRICARE, attendees moved on to small breakout sessions to learn about post deployment challenges, life challenges, personal finance management, education benefits and identity theft protection.
"I think Yellow Ribbon helps spouses understand that they are not alone," said Addie Swope. "It gives lots of contacts in the local community that can offer help in areas that range from financial advice to post traumatic stress disorder. This weekend showed me that we are all a community and that we are all serving together."
Senior Airman Raymond Armenta, a security forces specialist at the 162nd, said "The financial advice we got was very eye-opening. And I never knew that I could nominate my employer for a Patriot Award through ESGR."
Armenta, a corrections officer for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said his employer emailed him periodically during his deployment to check on his well-being and gave him time off when he returned to settle back into being at home.
"After this, I'm definitely going to nominate them for some recognition," he said.
For Charles Wade, organizing Yellow Ribbon events is rewarding work on a personal level. Wade, who is a master sergeant in the 161st Aerial Refueling Wing's public affairs office in Phoenix, has deployed several times in his Air Guard career and understands the challenges.
"I was deployed to Iraq for eight months in 2009 and it was really hard on my family. My experience with that has shown me how important it is to reach out. When I talk to servicemembers about the Yellow Ribbon program it's really gratifying for me," said Wade.
"Divorce rates are up, suicide rates are up and our operations tempo is still going strong, so if we can help save a life or a marriage by getting people the resources they need then it is well worth it," he said.
For more information about Yellow Ribbon or to register for an upcoming event visit www.jointservicessupport.org