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Before the Yellow Ribbon Program - One Airman's Reflection

Mr. Brian Bohlman, 169th Fighter Wing Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program Coordinator for the 169th Fighter Wing, South Carolina Air National Guard, poses for his portrait June 20, 2013.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

Mr. Brian Bohlman, 169th Fighter Wing Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program Coordinator for the 169th Fighter Wing, South Carolina Air National Guard, poses for his portrait June 20, 2013. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- In October 2006, I returned home from a deployment to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany. About a month after being home, I found myself struggling with some of the trauma I had experienced while caring for the spiritual and emotional needs of severely injured wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan. My reintegration with myself and family was being strained. I also struggled to find suitable civilian employment that would allow me extra time off to fulfill my obligations as a traditional guard member. I knew there were resources to help me and my family, but I didn't know exactly where to start. Perhaps you can relate to my experience before the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP) was created.

In 2008, the National Defense Authorization Act created the YRRP to educate and connect National Guard and Reserve component service members and their families with local, state and national resources to assist them before, during and after a deployment. Former Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta said, "Guardsmen and Reservists often do not have ready access to the same support network as the active-duty force. We've got to do what we can to increase initiatives like the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program that's working to address this kind of problem." As a result, the YRRP helps fill the gap with a wide array of deployment-cycle support resources for national guard members that only active duty service members typically received.

Federal law and National Guard Bureau policy require all service members, who receive a deployment tasking of 90 days or more, to attend a Yellow Ribbon Pre-Deployment and Post- Deployment event. Service members attend YRRP events on military orders in a paid training status and their family members and/or designated individuals are highly encouraged to attend on invitational travel orders. Free childcare is provided along with special breakout sessions for family members. Yellow Ribbon During Deployment events are typically held halfway through a deployment and feature resources and programs for family members and designated individuals while their loved one is deployed.

Since the 169th Fighter Wing YRRP began in early 2010, six Pre-Deployment, three During Deployment and 12 Post-Deployment events have been held. Yellow Ribbon events are conducted over a one to two day period at convention centers and hotels located throughout the state. Some Yellow Ribbon events are hosted by the S.C. Army National Guard and other ANG units in North Carolina and Georgia. In times of limited funding, "joint" events with other states and components are essential to continuing this mandated program. Joint events help identify best practices and allow units to share resources and support staff to conduct excellent events.

In June 2013, I was hired by Military Personnel Services Corporation (MPSC) to manage the SCANG YRRP. I just love the MPSC motto which states "it's about people." As a civilian contractor, I serve as the Yellow Ribbon Support Specialist and ensure the SCANG YRRP is being carried out in accordance with federal law and NGB policy directives. YRRP is a tool to help commanders maintain individual military readiness so that service members and their families are connected to the vast array of resources during their deployment.

Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, Jr., South Carolina Adjutant General said, "Barbara and I consider our participation in South Carolina's Yellow Ribbon programs an absolute priority. Nothing is more important or more rewarding than supporting our service members and their families before, during and after deployment. We are humbled by the courageous sacrifices they're making and committed to seeing them through these stressful times."

Shortly after Col. Michael Manning assumed command of the 169th FW in July 2013, he signed a policy letter that outlined his expectations for full participation in the SCANG YRRP. Each member of the SCANG was emailed a copy of this letter and will be scheduled to attend a Yellow Ribbon Pre-Deployment event after they accept a deployment tasking of 90 days or more and a Post-Deployment event within 30-90 days after their return home. The SCANG YRRP is currently in the midst of an extensive audit of the entire program and processes. The results of this audit will help identify our best practices and areas of improvement.

A lot has happened since I took over the program a few months ago and I am honored to serve and support members of the SCANG and their families during their deployment cycle. After my last three deployments while a member of the SCANG, I can personally attest to the benefits and resources I gained from attending and participating in the YRRP. You can learn more about the program at www.YellowRibbon.mil and locate upcoming Yellow Ribbon events at www.YellowRibbonEvents.org.

I look forward to serving all SCANG service members and their families. Feel free to stop by my Yellow Ribbon office which is located in the wing headquarters building, room 153, near the auditorium. If you ever have a question about the Yellow Ribbon Program, please email me at brian.bohlman@ang.af.mil. My on base office phone is 647-3214 or if you're calling from off base, please call 803-647-8017, ext.3214.