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Minnesota National Guard
St. Michaels hopes to become a Yellow Ribbon church

When John Hamre returned from serving in the Vietnam War, he was afraid to even tell people he was in the Army

"We were treated pretty badly when we got back," Hamre recalls

Though Soldiers returning from duty in Iraq haven't been shunned and disparaged like many Soldiers were at the end of America's combat role in Vietnam, today's servicemen and women - and their families - are still very much in need of support, said Hamre, a Prior Lake resident whose son, Leif, served in Iraq

Hamre and others involved with the Church of St Michael's military support group in Prior Lake have begun making plans for St Michael's to become a "Yellow Ribbon" church

A Beyond the Yellow Ribbon event is planned from 7 to 9 pm Tuesday, March 16 in the Archangels Hall at the church, 16311 Duluth Ave, Prior Lake Col Kevin Gerdes, director of personnel for the Minnesota National Guard, will speak about the importance of long-term support for members of the military and their families

Minnesota is recognized as a leader in reintegrating Soldiers The Minnesota National Guard, with help from Chaplain (Maj) John Morris, developed the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program in 2007 to help Soldiers reintegrate when they returned from deployment In 2008, the National Defense bill included legislation to nationalize - and provide funding for - the program

As part of becoming a Yellow Ribbon entity, cities, counties, businesses, organizations and churches must develop action plans and organize groups for lasting support of military families

"It's more than just a one-time event," said Gerdes "It's about sustainability and supporting families long-term"

Gov Tim Pawlenty proclaimed Farmington as Minnesota's first Yellow Ribbon City in December 2008 The program has a "deployment cycle support" team that helps to develop plans for Yellow Ribbon groups

So far, just two Minnesota churches - in Eagan and Arden Hills - have been given the Yellow Ribbon designation The mission of Yellow Ribbon churches is to honor, serve and support veterans and their families, not only when they return, but also before and during their deployment, Gerdes said

When a Soldier deploys, "loved ones often feel abandoned, and others don't understand what they're going through," said Gerdes "These networks say, 'We care about you and want to do something for you to demonstrate that we care' That makes a tremendous difference to families"

Gerdes said the effort is about supporting members of the community, regardless of how one feels about the war

"It's apolitical It's showing those who are making sacrifices that we care," he said

Yellow Ribbon programs offer everything from emotional support to help with household chores such as mowing lawns and cooking meals A volunteer recalled delivering a meal to a family and hearing a child say, "When they bring these meals, it makes me feel special," Gerdes said

Holly Jackson of Shakopee benefited from the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program when her husband, Terrance, was serving in Iraq with the Minnesota National Guard's Red Bulls With her husband thousands of miles away, Holly struggled to keep her family together and provide support for their 5-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son, who particularly struggled to cope with his father's absence

Through the Family Assistance Center in Rosemount, Holly learned about Beyond the Yellow Ribbon She started talking to volunteers, who guided her through an emotionally difficult time

"To not be able to talk to my husband about things, I was crying every day because I was emotionally drained," she said "I turned to these people and started talking about what was going on, and it was the difference between night and day in terms of my ability just to be able to cope"

One woman called Holly every other day to check in with her Holly said she would like to return the favor by becoming a Yellow Ribbon volunteer

"I want military families, especially those deploying for the first time, to know that they should grab every resource out there," she said "Use the support groups available I know people don't want to share their feelings with a bunch of strangers, but it's so beneficial That's what they're there for"

Holly believes more people would understand what military families go through - and therefore offer to help - if Beyond the Yellow Ribbon was more widespread

"It needs to be a part of every single community, because every community has a Soldier," she said

Hamre and his wife, Mary, started the St Michael's military support group in 2007 to raise awareness of the need to support Soldiers in Iraq - including their son, Leif, who was 22 at the time

"We noticed there wasn't much support around, that people didn't seem too aware about this war going on," Hamre said

The group has been slow to evolve; there are currently about five members Hamre hopes to expand the group and make people more aware of the need to help Soldiers and their families

"Troops are going into constant rotations They're gone a year or more, and then they come back," Hamre said "It's really important to me to support all of these young men and women going over there and separating from their families and putting themselves in harm's way They need something back here that's concrete, that's tangible"

To go
What: Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, open to members of all churches in Scott and Dakota counties Col Kevin Gerdes will speak about the importance of long-term support for members of the military and their families
When: 7 to 9 pm Tuesday, March 16
Where: Archangels Hall, Church of St Michael, 16311 Duluth Ave, Prior Lake
Information: John Hamre at (952) 447-2605 or Deacon Dick Roy at (952) 447-2491, ext 114

Submitted by Lori Carlson on March 5, 2010 - 6:00am
Lori Carlson can be reached at (952) 345-6378 or editor@plamericancom

Article source: http://www.plamerican.com/st-michael-s-hopes-become-yellow-ribbon-church-103

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