KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The potential challenges faced during a service member’s deployment are endless and omnidirectional.
Ranging from financial to emotional stressors and everything in between, there are many ways in which a six-, nine- or even 12-month absence from home can affect a service member and their family.
The Air Force Reserve Command’s Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program exists to curtail those struggles and ensure deployers and their families are aware of all the resources available to get them through each stage of a deployment.
According to their website, the program is a Department of Defense-wide effort to promote the well-being of National Guard and Reserve members, their families and communities, by connecting them with resources throughout the deployment cycle. Through Yellow Ribbon events, Service members and loved ones connect with local resources before, during, and after deployments.
For the 403rd Wing’s new YRRP coordinator, Master Sgt. Crystal Jones, there couldn’t be a better role for her.
“My background has prepared me tremendously for this position,” she said. “From my current experience being a first sergeant to my earlier experiences in the Airman and Family Readiness Center, I’ve always enjoyed being in a position where I can help and provide resources for Airmen.”
As program coordinator for the wing, Jones assists in the organization and facilitation of events as well as ensures eligible members are aware of upcoming events and know how to sign up.
“Every member deploying is eligible for three events,” she said. “They can do one pre-deployment event and two events once they come home.”
These events take place in major cities all over the United States and are completely free, said Jones. Travel and lodging are provided as well as a per diem for food.
“We just did events in Anaheim, California and Jacksonville, Florida, and in May we have one in Seattle,” said Jones, “The program tries to choose places that have family-friendly things to do outside of the event itself, as members are allowed—and encouraged—to bring two guests, whether it’s their spouse, child, best friend, or someone else in their support system.”
The program events themselves consist of representatives from different helping agencies such as Military OneSource, the Judge Advocate’s office, the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS), and more. Also, there are sessions available for couples or singles enrichment, finance speakers, one-on-ones with home buying experts, and other opportunities beyond military-specific resources.
“We encourage Airmen who do the post events to attend their first one 30 days after they return home and the second one within 6 months of the first,” Jones said. “A lot of times the transition back to normal life can be difficult on both the Airman and their family, so we try to get them to these events as soon as possible to work with them on reacclimating and to speak with their families about why their behavior might be different at first.”
She went on to say that the second post-deployment event serves as a follow-up to see not only how the service member and their support system are doing but also to gauge how they as a program are doing.
Jones’s encouragement for Airmen to take advantage of the opportunities the program provides stem not just from her job description, but from the fact that she has benefitted from it herself.
“I participated in events for two different deployments and saw how awesome the program was firsthand,” she said. “I lost my sister in 2011 and unfortunately she didn’t have a will, so that was something that was important to me. Being a reservist and only having so much time to get everything done on the drill weekends, I took advantage of the JAG services offered at a Yellow Ribbon event to take care of my will and testament.”
In addition to taking care of legal matters, Jones had taken on a new role as legal guardian of her nephew, who was diagnosed with Attention-deficit/Hyperactive Disorder, so she took the opportunity of an event to find ways to provide the best care for him.
“The Military OneSource representative there was able to provide me with a binder of helpful information and she gave me telephone numbers and resources for tutoring and things of that nature to help take care of him while I was gone,” she said. “That, to me, was amazing, and those experiences made me want to be part of the program.”
For more information on upcoming events, Jones said she sends out information via email the Wednesday before every UTA weekend.