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Yellow Ribbon Summit Tackles Top Issues

Samantha L. Quigley, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2009 – Defense and military officials gathered at the Pentagon to discuss the top issues facing the Yellow Ribbon Program for reserve-component servicemembers and their families during a two-day summit that concluded today.

Nancy E. Boyda, deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs for manpower and personnel matters, said she was pleased with the outcome and praised those who came together for the meetings.

“The leadership from the Yellow Ribbon in the services just blew me away,” she said. “They were already so much more joint [than expected.” She noted that sometimes the ability to work jointly can be more talk than action.

“But there was a real commitment to taking care of servicemembers regardless of what service they were from,” she said. “Clearly it’s the best use of money. But it wasn’t even about just the best use of money. It’s about taking care of the servicemember.”

A congressionally mandated program, the Yellow Ribbon Program is designed to benefit National Guard and Reserve members and their families. Through five events – one pre-deployment, one for just families during deployment and three post-deployment events – servicemembers and families are prepared for what to expect during a deployment and reintegration.

The events allow servicemembers and their families to find resources to help them with financial planning, child and youth programs, and any issues they may be facing upon return from deployment.

Among the topics discussed at the summit was the Joint Travel Regulation and its impact on people such as girlfriends or fiancées, who support servicemembers but don’t qualify for travel compensation under the regulation to attend Yellow Ribbon events.

“The [regulation] can be interpreted to say you can only pay for the spouse and the dependent children,” Boyda said. “We need [all] those support people to be there at the Yellow Ribbon events. So the commanders are constantly encouraging these support people to come, and it’s a slap in the face to say, ‘Well, we can’t pay for you.’”

Getting the regulation changed has been a top priority, Boyda said. “That’s going through,” she said. “We think that it’s been cleared through. We think everybody is on board in getting that done.”

Boyda said funding for the Yellow Ribbon Program is key.

“Making sure that we have enduring funding to keep these programs going is a huge issue,” she said. “[We are] really working through some of the funding issues proactively, and bringing that up to all of our leadership and to Congress.”

In the group’s initial report to Congress, it listed funding as one of its two top issues. It is looking, however, for possible solutions to the funding issue, rather than just asking Congress for more money.

Some of the funding comes out of Overseas Contingency Operations, or supplemental, funding. But the supplemental budget is on hold, and that creates a challenge for the Yellow Ribbon Program, Boyda said.

Also discussed was a core curriculum. This would ensure that every National Guardsman or reservist will get the same basic information regardless of which service is hosting the Yellow Ribbon event, Boyda said.

“The last issue is really just making sure that across the services we’re doing everything humanly possible to bring the best mental health, resiliency, behavioral health, substance abuse, real, live meaningful programs into the lives of these servicemembers at these events,” she said. “[We want the events to be] as life changing as humanly possible. We’re not just giving them briefings. We’re giving them tools to deal with the issues that we know are servicemembers dealing with.”

The Yellow Ribbon Program provides a lot of soldier and support functions in conjunction with reintegration and the soldier’s return, said Army Col. Gregg A. Bliss, division chief of the Army National Guard’s soldier and family support services division.

He also was impressed by the camaraderie of those participating in the summit.

“I think the one thing I took away was there’s a great amount of unity of effort amongst components,” he said. “There was no feeling that there was a one-component issue. This is an all component issue, this is an all-reserve issue, and I thought it was good to see that everybody came in there with a ‘purple’ perspective and looking at how we could improve the program overall and show a sustained unity of effort.”

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