By Carolann Wunderlin, 129th Rescue Wing Airman & Family Readiness Center
/ Published July 07, 2011
MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- Disneyland's Magic Kingdom, located in Anaheim, Calif., wasn't the only landmark catching the eyes of distinguished visitors from the Pentagon and National Guard Bureau on Saturday, June 25, 2011. Like a well-oiled machine, the California Air National Guard Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP) team, comprised of the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing (March Air Base), 146th Airlift Wing (Channel Islands), 144th Fighter Wing (Fresno) and 129th Rescue Wing (Moffett Field), pulled out all the stops to ensure that top level brass from the Pentagon and National Guard Bureau witnessed the product of a nearly 18-month collaborative YRRP process carved out by Yellow Ribbon Program assistants assigned to the Airman & Family Readiness Offices at each Wing.
The California Army National Guard took the lead in developing a YRRP process, executing a program within a year of DoD's 2008 Directive-type Memorandum. While the State Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Specialist (YRRS) position for the Air National Guard division was not filled until January 2009, Mrs. Autumn DeCosta and her eight-member YRRP Team, quickly caught up. The first the first California Air National Guard YRRP event was hosted by the 146th Airlift Wing in Anaheim, Calif. in May 2010. That first trend-setting event provided a benchmark for subsequent Army and Air National Guard YRRP events in the state, featuring the first-of-its kind YRRP Teen Workshop for 13 - 18 year olds.
Since then, the learning curve steadily improved, culminating into the product and service witnessed by Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague and Mrs. Nancy McKeague. Both provided inspiring remarks about the value of these events to both service member and their families. Mrs. McKeague further remarked about the military family campaign led by First Lady, Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden that not only improves the lives of military spouses and their families, but also promotes the betterment of their careers and education. General McKeague further shared his personal reverence for the mothers of military members, mentioning they are equally influential as our spouses in the readiness process.
General McKeague addressed the entire room and likened the combination of the service member, the employer and the family to a three-legged stool. He remarked that all three provide the stability and the strength to stand up to our adversaries for the long haul. Our mission capabilities and long-term retention require taking care of all three.
200 Guard and family members attended this event; all are preparing for deployment within 45-90 days. Childcare for children 12 years of age and under was provided in a room located within the hotel. In an adjacent room, teens 13 -17 years old met and engaged in icebreakers, team-building activities and thought-provoking skits that facilitated conversation centered around the emotional cycles of deployment, trust-building between their peers, communication and opportunities to process their real-time experiences regarding end-of-school exercises, as well as pre-deployment concerns.
The one-day event provided timely and meaningful presentations from subject matter experts from Veteran Affairs Healthcare and Benefits, Military OneSource (MOS), Employer Support to Guard & Reserves (ESGR), Military Higher Education, Military Family Life Consultant, Transition Assistance, Red Cross, Employer Partnership of the Armed for Forces (EPAF). Also, the new Yellow Ribbon "Fit Kits" were demonstrated. The Fit Kits are lightweight backpacks equipped with sturdy, eco-friendly strength bands, accompanied with a DVD and pocket-sized exercise instruction cards. They were developed by an Army veteran intended to support continued wellness and fitness for both service member and their spouses.
The keynote speaker for this event was Marine Veteran, Erik Therwanger. He provided an energizing and inspiring testament to the miraculous benefits of concise goal-setting. His training included strategies and techniques born from both his military experiences and more importantly, from his strength-building experience as a caregiver to his cancer-stricken bride, and now cancer survivor, Gina. He translated those experiences into the "goal formula," emphasizing the importance of keeping goals in the forefront of our minds rather than the backburner, where they are often set aside because of daily stresses, routines and grueling schedules. His inspirational presentation has been commended by General McKeague and has been referred to the other DoD YRRP programs at the Pentagon. Mr. Therwanger is presenting again at the 146th Airlift Wing's YRRP event in Ventura on July 16th and at the 129th RQW's YRRP event to be held in Santa Clara, Calif. on August 14th.
Other laudable remarks about this particular Yellow Ribbon event came from the chief of the National Guard Bureau's Yellow Ribbon Program, Major Cinnamon Carriaga and Deputy Chief, Jim Seymour. Both mentioned that the event "set the bar" for YRRP events based on the flow and pace of presentations, quality of presenters and smooth execution of operations from registration to closing remarks. There was also a conviction shared by all the Airman & Family Readiness Program Managers (A&FRPMs) in the state that the ADOS Assistants are the working arm of the YRRP process, providing the essential coordination between the Base Contracting Office, Finance, Deployment Planning and Logistics, Medical and the state YRRS. It was the intent of National Guard Bureau to assign ADOS assistants to each Wing so that they may provide primary YRRP coordination assistance to the state YRRS in addition to overall program assistance to A&FRPMs.
General McKeague wrapped up the day's events recognizing the importance of such venues as an opportunity to discover all the benefits, programs and services that both service members and families are entitled to. There are very few opportunities where all of these subject matter experts are available and their information so generously disseminated. Airman & Family Readiness Programs are also stakeholders in the deployment cycle process, ensuring all families are aware of these events and are afforded the opportunity to receive support and timely, relevant information necessary to their livelihood.