Let’s think beyond the yellow ribbon

Published 9:50 am Monday, October 11, 2010

When our younger son deployed from Germany to Saudi Arabia and went into Iraq the first time, we tied a yellow ribbon around an oak tree in our front yard. Several friends and neighbors did the same in his honor. We did so both from pride in his service and concern for his life. Stephen came back and moved on, and we removed the yellow ribbons. He married an Austin girl, they went to law school, and he is now a judge. We are living happily after all this.

I worry about what is beyond these yellow ribbons now. In many cases it’s one yellow ribbon after another—one deployment after another to one troubled and troubling country after another. For too many, the yellow ribbons don’t go up again because they have been replaced by a flag-draped coffin.

Horrible as the thought is, for some I must wonder if it might not have been better if the life had been resolved by instant death. A monstrous number who have returned have done so as the living-dead. Their families haven’t endured the burial and then adjusted. What is beyond the yellow ribbons for these and their families?—decades of caring for what is left of their soldiers.

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Not a few sustain injuries not as apparent as IED-disposed of legs. Something about them “just isn’t right.” “She just isn’t the same,” a father cried about his little daddy’s-girl.

One returned soldier told me of momentarily becoming disoriented in a big-box store and, when several employees came to assist him, he freaked out as if again under attack from civilians. Another speaks of scaring his children when speeding every time he drives under an overpass and swerving into the oncoming lane of traffic when he spots an unidentified object at the side of the road.

This, and many other terrible things, is what’s beyond the yellow ribbon for them. We feel so helpless, not knowing how to help them.

For this very reason, an organization has sprung up that appropriately calls itself Beyond the Yellow Ribbon. It provides many direct services for veterans and their families. I think more important strategically is the informative and training programs they conduct that extends their work to yet others who are then equipped to care after the yellow ribbon.

An especially helpful program will be offered in the Spring, postponed from this fall to enhance the content, that will help clergy to understand pastoral care to service members, veterans, and their families. Watch for other such announcements.

For those who wish to help beyond the yellow ribbon, I can think of no better source, resource, and opportunity. God bless them all.

The price paid by those deployed to middle east countries persists after the yellow ribbon and, so, must our care for them.