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Yellow Ribbon program fosters support for deployed members

Oregon Chief Master Sgt. Steve Nichols, of the 116th ACS, and his wife Nancy attend one of the many break-out sessions during the Yellow Ribbon Event held at the Governor Hotel in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photograph by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel)

Oregon Chief Master Sgt. Steve Nichols, of the 116th ACS, and his wife Nancy attend one of the many break-out sessions during the Yellow Ribbon Event held at the Governor Hotel in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 24, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photograph by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel)

Nov. 27, 2012 -- Sometimes the biggest joys in life are the simple things: house work, a Sunday afternoon football game on TV, and time spent a home with family members. After multiple deployments in the past several years during his a 38-year career in the Air Force, Chief Master Sgt. Steven P. Nichols, said he savors these kinds of days at his home in Vancouver, Wash.

Each transition has been a challenge depending on the stage in life where his family was at, said Nichols, the maintenance superintendent with the, 116th Air Control Squadron, Camp Rilea, Ore.

"Mostly for me, it is just getting resettled with Nancy and the things around the house," he said.

The adjustment from deployment back to the everyday routine is often a bigger challenge than the deployment.

During mobilization, airmen create a sense of purpose and cohesiveness while focusing on the larger mission. The support can quickly vanish once guardsmen and reservists return home and begin the integration process back into their communities.

One of the ways to support airmen and families make the adjustment after deployment has been the creation of the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program.

Established by the Department of Defense in 2008, the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program was designed to assist in all the stages of the deployment process and give family members and employers the resources necessary to welcome the service member's home.

"We had nothing like this before," said Steve's wife, Nancy Nichols.

The Yellow Ribbon staff and unit deployment managers hosted several get to getter events for family members and wives in particular during the most recent deployment, as they were reaching out on a weekly basis, she said.

As the 142nd Fighter Wing airman and family readiness program manager, Mary F. Bell, helps train volunteers who work directly with the deployed family members and their employers.

These volunteers are a key link between the families and the Yellow Ribbon staff when putting together informational events or pot luck dinners during the time the members are deployed.

"It is my job to get as much information about the resources available in one place before deployment, and support the Yellow Ribbon retention specialist during the deployment cycle," said Bell.

That is where Amy L. Schmid, an Oregon Air National Guard Yellow Ribbon retention specialist plays such a significant role.

When a member gets orders or a unit gets mobilized, the list of responsibilities to prepare everyone in time to deploy can be daunting.

"Many times the challenge is just getting as much information as possible to the members and allowing them to focus in on what they need right now," said Schmid.

Sometimes she may work with a unit first sergeant to help get a broad array of material out, or she may work with one person who has a unique need. Financial, marriage support and educational benefits are just a few of the many arrangements that frequently get asked about.

"Letting loved ones know where the resources can be found is an enlightening experience, and communication is key to making the connections happen for everyone involved," she said.

The main part of the Yellow Ribbon program focuses on the post deployment phase with 30, 60 and 90-day events. The events can be as intimate as a counseling session for couples or a weekend retreat with workshops, breakout sessions and kids events. Schmid has orchestrated larger events to enhance the workshops impact at unique venues, such as; the Sunriver Resort in Bend, Ore., or at luxury hotels around the state in Portland and Seaside, Ore.

Last year when 83 members of the 116th ACS returned from Operation Enduring Freedom, Schmid coordinated a three-day weekend event for the unit.

"This larger event allowed members from all over the state to attend, and we got a lot of bang for the buck with guest speakers and a variety of workshops," said Schmid.

"Steve and I have been married for 32 years, and we have had nothing offered before this program to ease the transition process," said Nancy Nichols.

Steve Nichols noted that in his 19 deployments this support is better than anything before.

"I really feel for our young fathers coming home from a deployment," said Steve Nichols. "Mom has set all the rules for the kids while he was away, and everyone needs time to adjust back to a normal life at home."

With the current operational tempo slated to wind down in 2014, many of the programs established with the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program will eventually fall back to the Family Programs plans coordinators like Mary Bell.

The assets and contacts put in place since the program was set up have given airmen resources for future growth, said Bell.

In the past, many airmen who deployed did not receive many of the assets currently being offered now to airmen who have deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In many ways these services and resources will be a living legacy to guardsmen and reservist in the future.