FORT WASHINGTON, Md. - Service members and relatives of American troops on deployment gathered at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center this weekend to learn more about the Department of Defense Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP), which aims to connect military families with support services.
Members from several branches of the military attended the event, which was hosted by the U.S. Army 99th Regional Support Command.
"The program itself, the purpose of it, is to make sure the families are stabilized when the service member is serving the country," says program manager Jeff Campbell.
"Also, when (service members) return, to give them integration tools in order to get back with the family to hit the ground and run again."
Officials from the 99th RSC say post-deployment is a critical time for members of the National Guard and Reserve, since they often live away from military installations and members of their units.
Both the service member and the family he or she comes home to will have changed, says Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Taffey.
"To me, the single most important thing is to try and find a way to keep regular communication with your service member while they're deployed, and to let (them) know you're not alone," says Taffey, who commands all Army Reserve troop program units worldwide.
On Saturday, Minnie Brawley attended a YRP for the first time. On July 10, Antonio Howard, the grandson she raised, was sent on his first deployment for the Army to Afghanistan. He'll be gone a year.
"(When) you have what you have and it's gone, that's when you really miss it, and I miss my grandson," Brawley said somberly before adding with a sudden enthusiasm, "But, he's going to be all right, because he's going to come back."
Brawley says it's the first time she'll spend an extended time away from her grandson, but being around other families in the same situation eases the pain of her new reality.
Organizers say it's the Minnie Brawleys of the world they want to start working with early, to prepare for the return of the service member.
"We, specifically, give them tools, as in dealing with depression, possibly dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, possibly dealing with isolation, how to deal with family issues," Campbell says.
Since January 2008, more than 1.1 million National Guard and Reserve service members have taken part in the YRP, according to the 99th RSC.
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