| Group working to make Washington County first Yellow Ribbon county
March 11, 2009
Everyone wants to know how the Soldier is doing.
No one asks how the Soldier's family is doing.
That is the message that military personnel took to a group gathered at Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo Monday night. The listeners were there to form coalitions and support systems to keep families of Soldiers deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan from feeling alone, isolated and bereft in a sea of child care, household chores and daily demands.
The meeting was called by a number of Washington County leaders after meeting Lt. Col. Barbra O'Reilly and Col. Kevin Gerdes at a Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting at which the board commended the send-off of the 34th Infantry Division, Army National Guard Division Headquarters in Rosemount, known as the Red Bulls.
When people at the county meeting asked, what can we do, they were directed to the city of Farmington, which has become a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon community. Residents there formed themselves into a number of groups to provide services and support to deployed families.
Farmington followed a template to become a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon community, following research by the Warrior to Citizen campaign developed at the University of Minnesota. Should Washington County become a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon county, filling the template offered by the organization, it would be one of the first counties to do so.
What it is like
At the opening of the gathering Monday evening, military families explained why the need exists.
O'Reilly described her own deployment to Afghanistan, during which she left two young daughters at home with her husband.
She described the experience as being in a canoe, one that keeps its balance as the family paddles across a serene lake. But when the word comes that the Soldier will be deploying, "It upset my canoe," she said.
"You're waiting for the inevitable day when you have to go," she said, and the water gets rougher as the day comes closer. "As I left, I slipped into a world of the execution mode, but my husband and daughters were still in the canoe," O'Reilly said.
What's more, he was not unlike most military families, who are reluctant to ask for help.
"He's at the end of the lake, and there's a portage," she said. It's time to ask for help from friends, neighbors and the rest of the community, but that is a tough task for most military families.
Micki Gerdes, wife of Col. Kevin Gerdes, told her story from the perspective of the family left behind.
Everyone wants to know how the deployed spouse is doing, what they can do for the Soldiers fighting "over there."
No one asks what they can do for the family.
"I raised my right hand and took an oath to go wherever this country would send me," Kevin Gerdes said. "Micki and my boys did not. They were drafted."
Micki Gerdes talked of being isolated and lonely, of needing household help that was not coming. Co-workers were either indifferent or against the war, and said so. Her sons didn't want anyone to know that their father was deployed and they were "different." Teachers were both sympathetic and indifferent, she said.
No one is looking for sympathy, Kevin Gerdes said, and no one needs to say "I'm sorry" about a deployment. But support and understanding would be helpful.
With regular army, those deployed will train and prepare at a fort, and their families will be living among one another and support one another. But what is needed is "Fort Minnesota," as there is no single military installation in the state, O'Reilly said.
And that is the point of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, to gather the support for military families into a concerted effort.
After the formal presentation, those attending broke into groups to talk about what segments of the community can do to help. Elected officials from the community listened to Annette Kuyper of Farmington, who discussed the process that her community underwent to become a designated Beyond the Yellow Ribbon community.
Other groups were educators, social service network providers, veterans groups, clergy and others. In the group connected to the clergy, the question came up, "how to find the families?"
Because of privacy issues, there are not lists of the deployed that are released. Community members simply have to ask, pay attention, and refer friends and neighbors. Kuyper added that once residents in her community became aware of the programs, efforts "bubbled up" to locate those who need help.
The purpose of the meeting was to generate interest in the community and that was accomplished, said Sen. Kathy Saltzman, one of the organizers,
The next step is to make sure that everyone left the meeting with a task and contact information on how to get that task completed. The groups should meet every week for the next five weeks, to help find the people within the community who can be of help.
Saltzman emphasized that the movement is not to create new organizations or programs, but simply to mobilize current programs, as well as offering support for the families of the deployed.
The group created an e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org to provide a common point of discussion for the group.
Yvonne Klinnert " Lake Elmo Leader
Read more at the Lake Elmo Leader
Go to the Minnesota National Guard's Beyond the Yellow Ribbon page for more information about the Minnesota National Guard's award-winning Servicemember reintegration program.
Gold Star Fathers Share Story of Love, Service and Sacrifice
Posted: 2015-03-25 08:45 AM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - "A Gold Star family member is a person who has lost a loved one who was serving our nation in the armed forces regardless of the circumstances of the death," said Survivor Outreach Services provider Amy Garber.
Bill Smith, father of Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, and Richard Cauley, father of Spc. George Cauley, two Gold Star dads, recently spoke about their sons and what it means to be a Gold Star father.
"Everyone's greatest fear is the thought they'll say something awkward [to a Gold Star family member]. We want to talk about our loved ones. The greatest sadness would be that no one would remember," said Bill Smith.
334th Brigade Engineer Battalion Celebrates Women's History
Posted: 2015-03-22 01:39 PM
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - Soldiers of Headquarters, Headquarters Company of the 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion took time away from training to celebrate Women's History Month with a look at the history of women in the Minnesota National Guard from someone who lived it.
Invited to speak at the event was Geraldine Longfellow. In 2008, Longfellow retired from the Minnesota Army National Guard at the rank of lieutenant colonel. She has since been brevetted to the rank of colonel.
Camp Ripley Guardsman Recognized as "Big Brother of the Year"
Posted: 2015-03-18 03:40 PM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - For many Service members of the Minnesota National Guard, dedication to the community is as high of a priority as any other mission.
"We feel it is our duty, in our own communities, to ensure that our friends and neighbors are taken care of," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ryan Ross.
Ross, who has been an active member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota for over three years, as well as a member of the Minnesota National Guard, was recently recognized by the agency as "Big Brother of the Year" for the State of Minnesota.
Young Soldiers, Big Plans
Posted: 2015-03-17 01:26 PM
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait - Soldiers join the National Guard for many different reasons. Some are seeking the adventure and experience, some are looking for career opportunities and school benefits, and some soldiers simply want to serve their country.
At some point in a soldier's enlistment, he or she will be asked, are you going to re-enlist? Enlistment contracts for the National Guard often are an eight-year obligation with four or six years of active drilling service. Some soldiers leave the Army, and others decide to take the opportunities they've been offered and make a career.
Sgt. Brittany Grams, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 34th Combat Aviation Brigade medical noncommissioned officer, and Spc. Freddie Williams IV, HHC 34th CAB human resource specialist, are making careers, and the transition from enlisted soldier to officer.