A New Battlefield

Coast Guard District 8 NewsThe tear-streaked face of a child buried in the uniformed shoulder of his or her parent as the parent returns from war. That’s the image, which, to many, says “the end.” The parent made it home safely, so that’s it… right? As far as Congress was concerned, it wasn’t.

As part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, Congress mandated implementation of the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP). The Secretary of Defense was directed to establish the program and provide Reserve members and their families with sufficient information, services, referrals and proactive outreach opportunities throughout an entire deployment cycle.

In 2010, the Coast Guard established the YRRP to ensure deploying Coast Guard members, families and others connect with local resources before, during, and after deployments.

Through studies and surveys, the YRRP leadership determined that the best method to achieve its goals resided in multi-pronged, educational events, held during all phases of a deployment cycle. The first is a pre-deployment event held for the members and their families before deployment. That is followed by a mid-deployment event held specifically for those loved ones left behind. Then, when members return home, the reintegration phase begins.

“Studies have shown that the toughest part of any deployment is that reintegration phase,” said Cmdr. Karl Leonard, Yellow Ribbon manager. “During a program like this one, we focus on giving the members the tools to successfully reintegrate back into their civilian life with their spouse or significant other. We know from studies that post-traumatic stress disorder can start to surface at the 6-month mark. So, even that far out, after coming back, people are just starting to exhibit signs of PTSD. That’s why this is a continual process.”

Recently, a YRRP event was held in Orange Beach, Ala., for Coast Guard Port Security Unit 308 of Kiln, Miss. At first glance, one might not have known an event was happening. Even though they are part of a military organization, the members of YRRP don’t wear uniforms to events and neither do their event participants. But there is a rational behind this mandate.

“It’s intentional that nobody’s in uniform,” said Leonard. “Everyone’s in civilian clothes because it’s about the member. It’s about the member’s family. It’s not about rank. It’s not about chain of command. It’s not about military structure. We want the focus to be squarely on the individual and his or her family.”

The hallway leading to the presentation room was lined with tables populated by representatives eager and willing to assist reservists, including Humana and the chaplain’s office. There was even a table for the University of Phoenix.

“This was my sixth deployment and my first Yellow Ribbon Program. I learned a lot,” said Cmdr. Stephen Browning, commanding officer of Port Security Unit 308. “My first deployment was in ’90, ’91 for Desert Storm. We got off the airplane, they handed us a release from active duty form and that was it. This was very informative. It’s been great to find out the benefits and resources available that I didn’t know existed.”

“It would have been great to have had something like this before now. Especially with the chaplain’s stuff, the VA stuff,” Browning added. “I had no idea about any of that and now we have good phone numbers, resources and websites.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jabari Arnold agreed.

“I’ve gotten a lot of information,” said Arnold. “There are a lot of schools that take our benefits that I wasn’t aware of. I’ve learned a bunch of stuff, good information to take in.”

With hundreds of reservists returning from deployment every year, there will be many more welcome home celebrations, many more tear-streaked faces and relieved family members. But, when coming home, there will also be the threats of PTSD and financial, educational and work-life issues to contend with. As long as these threats exist, as long as brave Coast Guard reservists are risking their lives to keep America safe, the YRRP has a job to do.

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