ORLANDO, Fla. – More than 350 mobilizing or recently deployed U.S. Army Reserve soldiers and their families gathered in Orlando, Florida, for the 81st Readiness Division Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Event Jan 12, 2019.
These Yellow Ribbon events provide soldiers with the support and resources to successfully transition from a deployment back to reserve status.
“The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program orientates soldiers and their families to the unique challenges of deployment,” said Donna M. McGee, Yellow Ribbon program manager, 81st Readiness Division. “It builds relationships and enhances camaraderie by connecting soldiers and family members to numerous resources to help meet the needs of a deployed service member.”
The soldiers and their guests enjoyed a three-night stay at the Omni Orlando Resort at Champions Gate, a four-star hotel. They participated in educational breakout sessions that covered dozens of topics such as family readiness, financial planning and individual resiliency. Subject matter experts from various disciplines such as financial planning, marriage counseling and lifestyle coaching led each session.
“It makes a difference when you have 12 or more presenters with the unique skillset and practical experience to help soldiers physically, mentally, financially and spiritually prepare for their deployment,” said Rev. Aljournal Franklin, Army Substance Abuse Program specialist. “These instructors understand firsthand the hardships of deployment, and many put their heart, mind and soul into developing engaging presentations with relevant material.”
Between breakout sessions, soldiers and families also met with community partners from a diverse collection of industries, universities, technical schools and non-profit organizations. The vendors educated the troops on career opportunities, academic programs and financial resources available to them.
“We want to show soldiers and their families that there is life after deployment,” said McGee, a native of Havelock, N.C. “Our community partners offer countless opportunities for any service or family member to pursue his or her passion.”
The 81st’s first Yellow Ribbon in 2019 featured a Family Member and soldier Panel, the newest additions to the program. Family members asked their questions and voiced their concerns to a panel of soldiers, family members and other subject matter experts who experienced multiple deployments as a service member or spouse of a service member.
“The goal of the panels is to connect family members new to the military with those who have experienced multiple deployments,” said Franklin, a minister hailing from Columbus, S.C. “They provide more than just helpful information. They are a forum forged by testimonials that shed light on some of the toughest lessons learned by those who deployed a half-dozen times.”
Although the 81st’s Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program offers a plethora of information and resources, McGee and her team see more ways this program can offer even additional support for those preparing for and returning from a deployment.
“We understand that physical readiness is more than medical evaluations,” said McGee. “That’s why we plan to expand our program to include health and wellness classes such as yoga, Zumba, nutrition and meditation.”
As soldiers and their loved ones depart the hotel to spend quality time in and around Central Florida’s tourist attractions, McGee reflects on the fruits of her team’s labors.
“This is the first of at least nine Yellow Ribbon events that the 81st Readiness Division will host this year,” said McGee. “Each one takes about three months to organize, but each one produces lasting relationships built through close connections that strengthen individual resiliency and reinforce unit readiness throughout America’s Army Reserve.”
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