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Helping to make a 'yellow ribbon' network

An effort sweeping across the county to help provide a support network for military families is getting some help from leaders in Woodbury.

On April 22, the Woodbury City Council is likely to authorize a resolution of support for the Yellow Ribbon Network of Washington County.

Woodbury resident and former Washington County commissioner Dick Stafford is scheduled to present some information to the council about the campaign.

Stafford is vice chair of the group that is working to make Washington County a "Yellow Ribbon Community."

He said the initiative, which is supported by the Minnesota National Guard, has a goal to bring together all the various community support resources available to military families.

"There are a lot of different organizations out there trying to help service men and women and their families, but there is no official coordination between those organizations," Stafford said. "The Yellow Ribbon Network is designed to address that issue."

The effort actually came out of an initiative that was founded by the Minnesota National Guard called "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon," which is aimed at providing reintegration assistance to soldiers returning from overseas deployments.

Lt. Col. Barb O'Reilly has been working on the campaign and helped initiate Yellow Ribbon Network last year in Farmington, a community with a large number of National Guard members.

O'Reilly said she then saw an opportunity to form a network of Yellow Ribbon communities, where members of public and private organizations, schools, businesses and residents can offer any number of support services for military families in their community.

"A lot of times with military families, I think there is this feeling where you should be able to take care of yourself," O'Reilly said. "These families do have needs, but a lot of times there is a pride issue involved, where they are not willing to ask for help."

Help can come in the form of a baby sitter, a cleaning service, someone to help with house or vehicle maintenance issues, said Stafford.

"You might have a mother with three kids and her husband is serving, and all the sudden there is a plumbing problem in the house," Stafford said. "We want to be able to let them know they call someone who will help them with that issue.

"We have an obligation to help these families who are making sacrifices and it's gonna take help from all the community, businesses and residents."

Network in the early stages

The Washington County Yellow Ribbon Network initiative began last month during a meeting of area elected and community leaders at Oak-Land Junior High in Lake Elmo in the form of an ad hoc task force.

The meeting was spurred out of an earlier initiative led by Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel and a host of other community members.

The various parties encouraged all the municipalities in the county to pass a resolution of support for the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, which was recently deployed to another tour in Iraq.

At the March task force meeting, the group heard from Yellow Ribbon Network leaders in Farmington who shared their success to forming a network of resources from around the community.

Local veteran organizations in Woodbury are praising the effort and plan to join in, said Tom Grezek, post commander for the Woodbury American Legion.

"We will have are people involved in any way we're needed," said Grezek, who commented that the Yellow Ribbon Network is more proof that the community is solidly behind its military members and families.

"I am a Vietnam-era vet and I can tell you that the way society turned its head away from soldiers was a bad thing, but that's not the case any more" Grezek said.

"And there is definitely more we can do for our servicemen and women, make sure they have the support they need during and after their service."

Lt. Col. O'Reilly said the long-term goal is to establish Yellow Ribbon communities across the metro area and state so that military families will be comfortable in using the resources providing to them by their neighbors.

"Once we get this network formed and the resources in place, that's when the work really begins," O'Reilly said.

Persons interested in getting involved in the Yellow Ribbon Network can contact or Dick Stafford at