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Minnesota National Guard
Support for our soldiers: Stillwater looks to become a Yellow Ribbon City

If all goes as planned, and it appears it will, Stillwater should become a Yellow Ribbon City in January

Stillwater City Councilman Mike Polehna has been leading the charge for the city He says the effort has come out of personal experience

Polehna noted his family's military history (his uncle died at 19 during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and his father fought during the Korean War) and Ben Johnson, a Stillwater native and Green Beret, as personal inspirations in his life

"This is the least I can do for the guys out protecting us," he said

Becoming a Yellow Ribbon City involves a city showing the National Guard and state of Minnesota that it has the structures in place in different parts of the community to support the families of the deployed and troops that are returning

"The big thing is to make sure this is sustainable in supporting the troops when they come back," Polehna said

He is leading a committee that has drawn up a community action plan, which maps out how the different elements of the community will step in

The plan brings together local politicians, businesses, houses of faith, health care facilities, schools, police and veterans organizations so that they are all on the same page, Polehna said

Each arm takes on different issues For example, businesses are encouraged to give veterans job opportunities, and if possible, discounts to the families of deployed troops Police are trained on issues returning veterans might face or reintegrating them into the police force

"We want to make sure our communities are welcoming and make sure we are there to support them," Polehna said

The action plan should be green lighted by the National Guard soon and then sent to Gov Tim Pawlenty, who can sign a proclamation to make the Yellow Ribbon designation official A ceremony for the proclamations of Washington County, Stillwater, Woodbury and Hugo has been tentatively set for Jan 5

The idea behind building these networks is that National Guard soldiers, and others, don't really have a big active duty base in the area, said Officer Candidate Melanie Nelson, spokeswoman for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon While Fort Snelling provides just a handful of services, she said it isn't like most of the other active working bases around the country

The Yellow Ribbon Network can help to provide many of those services right in the community, Nelson said

"They don't have to go to a base - they can be taken care of right in their own community," she said

She says that with Stillwater-based troops scheduled to return from duty soon, the designation couldn't come at a better time

"It's phenomenal, especially for the guys coming home," she said "The 34th Red Bull Division will begin to come home in January and February, and when they come home and see their city has a sign that says it's a Yellow Ribbon City, I believe its going to be great for them"

Jim Norton, of Stillwater, was deployed with the Minnesota National Guard to Iraq from 2005 to 2007

"From a soldier's standpoint, there's nothing better than knowing when you are deployed the amount of support you have back home," he said "And there is piece of mind knowing that your loved ones back home are being taken care of by the community"

Norton, who works in both deployment cycle support and community outreach for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon with the Minnesota National Guard, has been helping Stillwater get its Yellow Ribbon designation

"A lot of the soldiers kind of feel like they are alone when they come home, because there is no one else around that knows what they are going through," he said "Through this program and through Stillwater being a Yellow Ribbon City, (community members) are receiving training that will help them understand what a solider is going through"

Norton said having Stillwater get the designation will be a good show of support for those soldiers

"This is a program that very much needed," he said "It's just really good to see

Peter Cox covers crime and the cities of Stillwater and Bayport for the Gazette He can be reached by phone at 651-796-1108

Published: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 12:11 PM CST

Article source: http://stillwatergazette.com

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Minnesota National Guard FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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