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Minnesota National Guard
Easing the Transition: Allowing Guard to Reintegrate Side-by-side

Submitted by Melissa Sullivan on August 2, 2007 - 7:45am
By Sen Norm Coleman

As another beautiful Minnesota summer continues toward the fall, it is our great pleasure to welcome home more than 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard's First Brigade Combat Team who have recently returned home from extended service abroad
It's hard to believe that service in the National Guard used to be described as "one weekend a month, two weeks a year," especially as we see these brave men and women return from the longest deployment of any unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom These citizen-Soldiers are proof of the elevated commitment of the National Guard to the defense of our nation, a commitment that deserves the highest degree of recognition by the government it serves

More than "weekend warriors"
Unfortunately, the programs and policies of the Department of Defense still treat our Guard troops like "weekend warriors" rather than seasoned war fighters who spent nearly two years away from home on their latest deployment Though our troops have deployed and served in a manner consistent with the finest traditions of the United States armed forces, our federal initiatives have not provided a level of support that matches their courageous spirit

One of the greatest policy mistakes we have encountered is the abrupt transition from military to civilian life After their active duty orders are complete, these citizen-Soldiers are thrust back into their civilian lives without any plan or program to assist them in their readjustment In fact, under current Department of Defense policy, we don't even allow Guard units to organize mandatory group events to go through the reintegration process together during the first critical months of their return

"Hands-off" policy has holes
This 60-day hands-off policy is well intended Our Guardsmen and women should not be forced to drill when they should be spending time with their families after their return home However, the unintended consequences of this policy leave them isolated from their unit and their comrades - people they've spent every day with for well over a year - and also denies them valuable reintegration services

During a forum this spring at the University of Minnesota, Col Neal Loidolt, who has served 22 years in the National Guard, noted that many National Guard Soldiers and their families face unique challenges when loved ones return from active duty The problem, Loidolt said, is that the "hands-off" approach to returning National Guard troops forces families and Soldiers to bear the full brunt of the major adjustments that come with their return to civilian life I have heard this same concern time and again during my many meetings with our troops and their families across the state It's a very real concern and one that we need to address

Fortunately, the Minnesota National Guard has innovated a strategy to deal with this emerging challenge The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program is one of only a handful of programs in the entire country that focuses on the reintegration of returning National Guard troops It provides support for Soldiers and their families during each of the four phases of their deployment cycle including pre-deployment, deployment, demobilization, and post-deployment

Guard troops participate in events and activities including family and marriage counseling, financial planning and education, small business planning, community outreach and health-care and veterans benefits education

As it stands, however, the Minnesota National Guard cannot operate its program as effectively as possible because of the antiquated 60-day policy This rule has hamstrung the Guard's ability to immediately reach out to troops who may need help the most

For these reasons, I have visited with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates personally to urge him to rescind the Defense Department's 60-day hands-off policy for National Guard and Reserve troops returning home from combat This will allow them to have access to reintegration services immediately Many of Minnesota's other elected leaders have also contacted the Pentagon with this request

As we welcome thousands of Minnesotans back into our communities this summer, it is crucial that all of us do what we can to make their reintegration process as smooth as possible I will continue working with my colleagues to ensure that all of our troops are able to meet the challenge of readjusting to civilian life in the best way possible It's the very least we can do for those who have given us all so much

Article source: http://www.hutchinsonleader.com/node/3651

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