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Minnesota National Guard
Minnesota Guard program getting national attention

WASHINGTON - A program the Minnesota National Guard has started to help Soldiers adjust to normal life after they return from war would become a national model under an effort announced Friday by Rep John Kline, R-Minn

Kline says the "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" program, which received bipartisan support and about $3 million last fall, is getting attention for its potential use by National Guard units around the country Officials from 19 states are in Minnesota this weekend to learn more about the program

"I think it's well-known from coast to coast that if we have Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in extended deployments that they are under some pretty, pretty heavy stresses," Kline said Friday "And we need to do something about that reintegration"

His legislation, which he plans to introduce next week, would nationalize Minnesota's program, providing the funding and structure for the National Guard in all states Kline said he hasn't seen any resistance from members of Congress and that he already has support from the National Guard Bureau, a national organization

The two-year-old program has served some 2,000 Guard Soldiers and family members, providing workshops on such topics as rebuilding and maintaining relationships, dealing with stress, anger management and substance abuse

Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, Minnesota's adjutant general, who took the lead in developing the program, said the program is intended also to help guard members return to school so the dropout rate is reduced, get access to local health providers and receive counseling for any relationship issues

It's unclear how much the program would cost nationally, but the money Kline is seeking would go toward administration costs and drill pay, he said "In my judgment, it's a small price to pay for this tremendous service that we need to provide," Kline, a retired Marine and Vietnam veteran, said

The Minnesota National Guard has had to delve into its own coffers to provide the reintegration training for Soldiers and their families, said Col Kevin Gerdes, who oversees the program

"The Army doesn't fund this kind of training or program in the reserve component," he said Active-duty members have access to the services at their home bases

There's another apparent need for federal legislation Minnesota needed a waiver to offer the program because the Department of Defense requires National Guard members to be left alone for 90 days after demobilization, Kline said He believes members need resources earlier to help them return to normal life

At 30 days and 60 days after demobilization, Soldiers and their families meet for workshops, Gerdes said There's a medical focus at 90 days, which only the Guard members attend

"The basis for this program is for us to look our Soldiers in the eye at the 30-day mark, the 60-day mark and 90-day mark and try to find out either through them or their family support structure if they are having issues, so we can identify it early, educate them and help them obtain follow-(up) care if needed," he said

Capt Justin Rodgers of Plymouth, who was deployed for 18 months and stationed in Baghdad, said the program helped him in his relationship with his wife

"We had been apart longer than we had been together," he said

His wife gave birth to their son while he was overseas, and she became the head of the household -- a role he said he was used to playing He said the workshop helped them be sensitive to each other's roles at home

Brady Averill is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau: 202-383-0015

By Brady Averill, Star Tribune

Article source: http://www.startribune.com/587/story/1134471.html

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