Group plans 'Yellow Ribbon' kickoffTom Grezek said it was difficult for relatives back home when he and his two brothers served in the military during the Vietnam era. “There was absolutely no support out there,” said Grezek, Woodbury’s American Legion post commander.
By: Scott Wente, Woodbury Bulletin
Tom Grezek said it was difficult for relatives back home when he and his two brothers served in the military during the Vietnam era.
“There was absolutely no support out there,” said Grezek, Woodbury’s American Legion post commander.
The Red Cross could help with emergencies, he recalled, but there certainly was no organized group of neighbors ready to step in and complete basic household tasks for a military family.
So it is of little surprise that Grezek supports an effort to make Woodbury a “Yellow Ribbon City,” a designation given communities with an established network of people, businesses and community groups eager to assist families of soldiers serving overseas.
“When you have a Yellow Ribbon community, I think what that means to the service member is the community is organized to help,” said Lt. Col. Barb O’Reilly, the National Guard’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign chief and a West Lakeland resident.
O’Reilly is advising a group of people – including Woodbury City Council member Julie Ohs, Washington County Commissioner Lisa Weik, state Sen. Kathy Saltzman, Dick Stafford and others – who want to launch a Yellow Ribbon program and find local residents who will lead the volunteer effort in the months and years to come.
Those organizers will launch a citywide Yellow Ribbon effort Sept. 28. Participants will be asked to split up into groups -- education, veterans organizations, law enforcement, businesses, churches and faith organizations, civic groups and elected officials – and begin planning ways to assist military families and spread the word about the Yellow Ribbon campaign to others in the community.
The Yellow Ribbon campaign is modeled after a program for active-duty Army families. A number of Minnesota communities are working toward a Yellow Ribbon City designation, but only Farmington so far has been given the title.
Supporters said a local network of volunteers is important because often military spouses are reluctant to seek out help even though they may be overwhelmed with a doubling of duties at home – raking leaves, driving kids to events, shoveling snow, cooking a meal.
“It’s Murphy’s Law: As soon as that service member walks out the door, something is guaranteed to happen,” O’Reilly said.
Darrin Ewing of Woodbury can relate.
Ewing, a Minnesota Air National Guard senior master sergeant, said his wife encountered two common household problems during his deployments. First, the automatic garage door broke. Then, at the end of a subsequent deployment, the washing machine malfunctioned.
“Every time she goes, ‘What’s going to happen next?’” Ewing said of his wife.
Ewing said he is fortunate to have family in the area who can help. Others do not.
The number of Washington County military families with relatives serving overseas is not clear, though there are 134 families with relatives in the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division serving in Iraq.
As the effort gets under way, organizers want to identify local residents, businesses, churches and other groups who already provide help to military families and to expand that network to include others. Some will communicate by e-mail. Eventually, supporters want to create a Web site devoted to local Yellow Ribbon efforts.
“We’re trying to build on existing strengths,” Saltzman said.
There will be overlap among Washington County communities working toward a similar designation. In addition, Washington County is attempting to become Minnesota’s first “Yellow Ribbon County.”
Weik said there are a lot of military support organizations and other groups already providing support to soldiers’ families, but the Yellow Ribbon designations will bring coordination.
“Everybody’s got an oar in the water already, but this way we’re all rowing together,” she said.
There is an educational component to the Yellow Ribbon program. Children of overseas soldiers may encounter unusual difficulties in school that few of their peers – or teachers – understand.
Schools can do a better job of educating teachers and psychologists about how to work with kids from military families, said Ernie Pines, District 833 community education director. Also, with better coordination student service organizations can help those families.
“There is a role we can play to increase the sensitivity of staff … that there are families who have children who may have some additional stresses,” Pines said.