WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2013 – A program that has helped ease the post-deployment process for thousands of Guard and reserve members and their families in recent years will remain vital even after combat operations wind down in Afghanistan, a senior defense official who helped establish it told American Forces Press Service.
The Defense Department launched the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program in 2008 to ensure reserve-component members have access to the information and resources they need to effectively reintegrate with their families, communities and their employers, said Ronald G. Young, who oversees the program as executive director of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
Over the past 12 years, about 900,000 Guard and reserve members have been called to duty, many for extended combat deployments. But unlike their active-duty counterparts, who returned to the extensive support of an installation after deployment, many reserve component members returned to communities that didn’t always understand the depth of their experience and to families unfamiliar with military demands.
“When we brought home our units from mobilizations in Iraq and Afghanistan, they would demobilize at an active-duty installation” often far from their homes, Young explained. “Here we were, trying to tell unit members about all the services and support they were entitled to now that they were returning home, yet nobody from the local vicinity where they lived or where the unit was located was there to support them.”
The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program helped bridge that gap, ensuring geographical separation from the military didn’t leave troops emotionally or socially isolated. Yellow Ribbon coordinators fanned out across the United States to deliver support and services where service members and their families could access them.
Although DOD has oversight of the program, each service tailored its own program to its members’ needs. But they share a general format, with at least one event scheduled at the alert phase, during deployment, and at 30, 60 and 90 days after redeployment.
In addition, family programs help ensure family members understand the deployment and reintegration processes and know about resources available to help them.
“We as a department have recognized the importance of a program to reintegrate our service members back into their local communities with the local support organizations right there,” Young said.
Now that combat deployments are drawing down and fewer reserve-component units are being mobilized, Young said it’s critical that the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program remains strong.
“We have learned that the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program is important to readiness, regardless of whether you are mobilizing for a war or mobilizing to go to Europe to backfill for a unit there. You don’t have to be leaving to go into a war zone to need the type of support this program provides,” Young said.
“So I see the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program as an enduring program for the department,” he said. “It helps us to reorganize, refit and prepare out units so they are ready when they are needed again in the future.”
Based on the key role the reserve components play in national defense, Young said that future is now.
“Today, we have 55,000 Guard and reserve members on active duty around the world,” he reported.
“The Guard and reserve are no longer just a strategic force, to be put on the shelf and await the next engagement somewhere,” Young added. “They are part of the operational force, and my belief is that the Guard and reserve will continue to be utilized into the future for operational missions.”
By some estimates, members of the reserve components could be even more important as the services reduce the size of their active forces, he noted.
“When they return home, they are going to need that same support and assistance to reintegrate with their families,” Young said. “And therefore, the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program is going to remain important to the readiness of our future force. It helps keep our force ready, it keeps our family ready and it is vitally important for our operational Guard and reserve.”
To remain relevant post-conflict, the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program has to be reliable, resourced and with trained coordinators ready to provide support when needed, whether during peacetime or war, Young said. DOD is exploring ways to deliver online training and a centralized, ready source of information for those who need it, he said.
As the program incorporates best practices learned from current operations, Young said it must be agile to adapt to future needs and operating environments.
“As part of that, we are adjusting the program content to make it scalable” to suit the size and duration of future mobilizations, he said.
“And the program has to be committed,” Young said. “We must remain dedicated to those who serve and those we support through a process of continuous evaluation and improvement of the program to ensure it provides enduring support to the services.”