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Minnesota National Guard
John Kline: Better support for troops back from combat

If you ask Vietnam War veterans about their homecoming, you are likely to get many different answers Some returned to warm receptions from family and friends and quietly tried to put their wartime experiences behind them Others were met with open hostility and disdain by a public that could not begin to comprehend what they had gone through Regardless of the individual experience, the country as a whole simply wanted to forget about the long, bloody struggle in a far-off country As a society, we preferred to turn away from the silent pleas for help from those struggling to reintegrate into communities that had changed dramatically in their absence While we as a nation consciously chose to put the war behind us, a disturbing sense that something was still wrong continued to haunt us The decades that have passed since the last Americans departed Saigon have covered many of the wounds, but the nagging belief that we as a country did not do right by our returning veterans continues to this day It is this collective belief -- by those of us who fought, those who protested, and those who simply watched and prayed from a distance -- that has fostered a conviction to listen to our returning combat veterans and make them part of our communities once again

In Minnesota, we have no active-duty bases or other physical reminders of the sacrifices made each day by our troops It is an absence from our communities of the men and women who serve in the National Guard, however, that focuses our attention and spurs us to action

Based upon his experiences as a returning Vietnam War veteran, Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General Larry Shellito has taken the lead to build a reintegration program for returning Guardsmen who lack the established support infrastructure of their active-duty counterparts With the Minnesota National Guard's deputy chaplain, Maj John Morris, Maj. Gen. Shellito and the Minnesota National Guard leadership have developed an innovative program to change how returning Soldiers and airmen are reintegrated into their communities

The program is aptly called "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon," to remind all of us that support for our veterans cannot end "when they return from deployment and the yellow ribbons are untied" Through experiences drawn from the deployments of smaller units to Iraq and Afghanistan, the leaders of the Minnesota Guard developed a unique combat veteran reintegration program with a focus on supporting Soldiers and their families throughout the entire deployment cycle This multifaceted program includes Family Reintegration Academies with workshops to help prepare family members for their Soldier's return and training events at 30-, 60- and 90-day intervals for Soldiers following their demobilization

The training events will give Guardsmen the opportunity to engage VA and health care representatives while also allowing platoon sergeants and commanders to check in with their troops Experience has shown that catching signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse or even marital problems early can prevent even more severe problems in the future Minnesotans can be justifiably proud of this pioneering, one-of-a-kind program

This Minnesota initiative has so impressed national leaders that the National Guard Bureau, the national-level organization in charge of equipping and deploying Guard units, cites it as the model for all other states to emulate I am pleased to be working with the National Guard Bureau and the Minnesota National Guard to nationalize this model program to enable other states to support their citizen-Soldiers and families using this proven system I will soon be introducing legislation to provide them with the resources and authorities necessary to implement the Minnesota "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" program nationwide

With experience as our guide, we must change the way that returning citizen-Soldiers are reintegrated into our communities following months of difficult combat duty Minnesota has done this in superb fashion and can now act as a model for the rest of the nation to follow

John Kline, a Republican, represents Minnesota's Second Congressional District in the US House of Representatives

John Kline
Published: April 20, 2007

A press conference with Congressman John Kline and Major General Shellito discussing the nationalization of the Minnesota National Guard's "Beyond The Yellow Ribbon" reintegration program.
April 20, 2007

Article source: http://www.startribune.com/562/story/1132354.html

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