Fort McCoy News January 09, 2015

88th implements changes to yellow ribbon program

STORY & PHOTO BY SGT. 1ST CLASS COREY BEAL
88th Regional Support Command

FORT MCCOY, Wis. — Since its inception in 2008, the 88th Regional Support Command (RSC) has hosted more than 70 yellow ribbon events, connecting nearly 40,000 Army Reserve Soldiers and their Families with vital deployment-cycle information, services, referrals and outreach opportunities.

While improvement and refinement of the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program is an ongoing process, several significant changes were instituted this fiscal year in order to better serve military Families, said Mike Larsen, 88th RSC yellow ribbon operations

Photo for yellow ribbon article
Nearly 700 deploying and recently re-deployed Army Reserve Soldiers and Family members speak with community partners during a yellow ribbon event held in Schaumburg, Ill. On average, between 40 and 50 yellow ribbon community partners attend each event to offer assistance and information to participants.

officer.

These changes include reduction in the number of events, incorporation of elective classes and longer break times to allow more time with community partners.

The first to see these changes were the nearly 700 deploying and recently re-deployed Army Reserve Soldiers and Family members who attended a yellow ribbon event held in Schaumburg, Ill., in November.

Attendees at this yellow ribbon event reflected an ongoing trend in participant deployment histories, validating the need for the adjustments made.

"We are seeing a fundamental shift in the ratio between first-time deployers and multiple-deployers," said Larsen. "We have Soldiers raise their hands during the opening of yellow ribbon events to be recognized for their number of deployments — and every event we have more and more Soldiers keeping their hands raised as we count up."

This dynamic necessitates changes to ensure the program is being tailored to best suit those with multiple deployments while maintaining the support provided to those going through the deployment cycle for the first time, said Larsen.

The biggest change to the Yellow Ribbon Program, and one which enabled others, is the U.S. Army Reserve-authorized reduction of yellow ribbon events from six to four. Yellow ribbon events are those events completed by a Soldier during an entire deployment cycle.

"Last year we had six different yellow ribbon events — this fiscal year it has been scaled down to four events," said Larsen.

According to Lt. Col. Connie Schauer, 88th RSC yellow ribbon training officer, the reduction of events is a welcome improvement.

"We were very excited when the new guidance came out calling for a reduction in events," said Schauer. "Participation in (the sixth event) has historically been low and generated negative feedback from participants who said the event was redundant."

Reducing the number of events also allowed the yellow ribbon staff to reallocate limited resources and implement changes that were once impossible, said Schauer. One such change is allowing yellow ribbon participants to select some of their classes from a menu of electives.

"Many Soldiers and Families were saying 'we've heard this stuff before,' or 'I've been to this class already.' A solution we came up with a while ago was incorporating an electives format, but we couldn't because of logistical constraints," said Schauer.

"Now participants can choose some of their own sessions, and it allows multiple deployers to avoid classes they may have received more than once," said Larsen. "This means members can choose electives best suited for their personal situation, rather than being lumped with others that may not be as relevant."

Another change instituted was increased break times between sessions in order to allow participants more time to connect with community partners. On average, between 40 and 50 community partners attend each event to offer assistance and information to participants. These include representatives of multiple military resources as well as employers, colleges, veteran-helping agencies and Army Reserve ambassadors.

"Participants said they wanted more time with community partners — and we listened," said Schauer.

"Army Reserve Soldiers and Families often don't have access or knowledge of these different agencies. Yellow ribbon events bring them all together and allow for the face-to-face time deserved."

It is important to remember that changes and improvements to the Yellow Ribbon Program are ongoing, said Larsen.

"We host 11 yellow ribbon events a year and take time after each one to see what worked and what can be done better. We conduct AARs (after action reviews) and we solicit attendee feedback."