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Minnesota National Guard
Minn. Guard launches new reintegration effort

Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. Kevin Gerdes initially scoffed at the idea of a program to help troops reintegrate when they returned from war

"Don't worry about us - we're good Minnesotans," he told a commander in Iraq in late 2005 They'd get a good welcome home, he said, and that would be all they'd need

Then he began getting notes in Iraq from an "out-of-control" chaplain back home about a reintegration program that began at the demobilization station, and then required troops to come back at 30-, 60-, and 90-day intervals

"Don't do this to us," Gerdes recalled his Soldiers telling him

But with a bit of persuasion from a general, he agreed to check out the program by taking part in it himself

Two years later, he and his Soldiers are believers in Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, the program launched by Lt. Col. John Morris, that "out-of-control" chaplain who serves as the Minnesota Guard's deputy state chaplain

About 1,500 Soldiers went through the training between 2005 and 2006, and another 2,600 who returned in July after 22 months in Iraq are in the process, Morris said in an interview

"There was no research on the reintegration of Soldiers or families nothing on how to put your life back together," he said

He talked to the Department of Veterans Affairs, mental health experts, Soldiers and missionaries to put together the program

And it's now being adopted by the National Guard Bureau as a model for an initiative that reaches across the entire reserve community to Soldiers and their families, Gerdes told a family forum at the national convention of the Association of the US Army

Gerdes said the program, which Congress is also eyeing as model for even broader use by the other services, is the vision of the state's adjutant general, Maj Gen Larry Shellito, a Vietnam veteran

"He looked into the Soldiers' eyes, talked to their leaders and said, "˜It's happening again' He looked at that chaplain, that "˜out-of-control' chaplain, and said, "˜You will not let this happen to these Soldiers like it happened to my generation,'" Gerdes said

"Beyond the Yellow Ribbon has broken the code," added Lt Gen Michael Rochelle, the Army's top personnel official

Under the program, families receive reintegration training before the unit returns When the unit hits the demobilization site, a team mentally prepares the Soldiers for re-establishing relationships with their spouses, children, parents and workplace

At 30 days, the Soldiers are brought together for one day, along with their families, to learn about reconnecting and to get information about other concerns, such as jobs Sessions are also set up for single and divorced troops

At 60 days, the Soldiers return to get information on addictions and substance abuse, and are offered help for any such issues At 90 days, they return again for medical testing and other requirements

Minnesota Guard Sgt Maj Bruce Stowe and his son, Sgt Darrin Stowe, said the training helped their family adjust after Darrin's return from Iraq For example, part of the training focuses on breaking war-zone habits that may not be welcome at home

"My parents said the swearing has to stop," said Sgt Stowe, who left for Iraq in August 2004, with a year of college under his belt, and returned in February 2006 And other habits have got to go, too, "like farting "¦ "˜guy stuff' your mom doesn't allow," he said

It was helpful for him, he said, to go through the training with Soldiers he deployed with, as it was easy to communicate with them and they could talk about some of the "weird" experiences they were having

Army regulations prohibit bringing troops back to drill any sooner than 60 days after a deployment, but the Minnesota Guard has an exemption because it is mustering troops specifically for reintegration training

"We want to bring the family who has been in combat back together," said Morris

The training is particularly helpful in highlighting potential problems within Guard families who may live far from regular military support sources, he said

"I'm offering a preventive public health program, where help is available," he said "Families are scared The media has convinced them their Soldier will have [post-traumatic stress disorder] It's not true, but if they do, we can tell them, "˜Here are people in the community who can help'"

Gerdes noted that Minnesota has no military installations

"What we have is Fort Minnesota We are building it one community at a time," he said

Morris noted that many Soldiers coming out of the war zone do not want to go through the training But afterward, many say they see its value and wish they'd been more receptive at the beginning

"At worst, they say it wasn't bad," Morris said "At best, they say, "˜It saved my life'

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Oct 22, 2007 6:31:14 EDT

Article source: www.NPR.com

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