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137th SOW develops special operations-specific Yellow Ribbon program for ANG Airmen

The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program is a mandatory National Guard Bureau event for pre-deployers and post-deployers that educates guardsmen and their families on eligible member services and support functions. The program includes, but is not limited to, information on health care, education and training opportunities, finances and legal benefits. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Andrew M. LaMoreaux)

The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program is a mandatory National Guard Bureau event for pre-deployers and post-deployers that educates guardsmen and their families on eligible member services and support functions. The program includes, but is not limited to, information on health care, education and training opportunities, finances and legal benefits. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Andrew M. LaMoreaux)

WILL ROGERS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Okla. --

The Yellow Ribbon program is meant to help Guard and Reserve military members, families and communities prepare for deployment.

The events during this program are mostly generalized across the Air Force, but Tiffany Wade, the Yellow Ribbon coordinator for the 137th Special Operations Wing (137th SOW), has been working to create classes that are geared more specifically toward the base’s special operations mission. The first of these Yellow Ribbons was held July 21, 2018.

“We want to cater information to our special operations wings rather than having the information be generalized,” said Wade. “We try to keep it operations-specific.”

The National Guard Bureau requires certain information be included in the program, such as health care, education and training opportunities, finances, and legal benefits. Wade customized this most recent event based on survey responses from the Wing’s first deployment as a special operations wing.

However, the attending Airmen and families also come from a range of backgrounds, from first-time deployers to those who are close to retirement, so Wade felt it was important to build classes to help them handle specific issues related to their deployment.

“I started meeting with commanders to get demographic information about the people in their units to really customize it for them,” she said.

She found that squadrons who deploy on a regular basis at the 137th had unique circumstances compared to regular deployments – such as their operations tempo, which requires them to be away from home longer and more often. For them, their dependents face more frequent absences and have less communication abilities, such as video chat, if they are stationed at remote locations. 

Guardsmen who are on deployment orders for 90 days or longer, either within or outside of the U.S., are required to attend a Yellow Ribbon event 45-60 days before deploying, and they have a year to attend two events after returning and being off of those orders. The first post-deployment Yellow Ribbon is encouraged within 45 days so that the member does not miss out on benefits that may expire. Service members can also bring anyone they wish to the Yellow Ribbon ceremony, which allows everyone, especially families, to have the same information and preparation.

One of the most important aspects of Wade’s Yellow Ribbons is the resource fair. She coordinates one for each event and has 20-30 vendors that range from therapy dogs to finance.

“It’s such a great thing to come and take part of, and benefits are ever-changing,” she said. “Just learning about what you qualify for and how to go about getting signed up is huge for every Airman to know and keep updated on – whether this is their first or seventh deployment.”

In addition to benefits information and the resource fair, members of the 137th Special Operations Wing Care Team – which includes coordinators from the Airman and Family Readiness, Psychological Health, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and Wing Chaplain’s offices – brief members about on-base resources that are available to both the attendees and their families.