Supporting our troops: Beyond the Yellow Ribbon serves those who serve

Published 9:41 am Saturday, November 2, 2019

Gov. Tim Walz has declared November as Month of the Military Family, and as Veterans Day approaches, military personnel both young and old will be honored for their service.

The sacrifice made by military personnel and their families is not often apparent to some; long deployments can change people, and readjusting from military to civilian life is not always a smooth, easy process. This holds true for combat and non-combat personnel alike, and problems can arise in this situation.

It is for those men and women that Beyond the Yellow Ribbon stands at the ready.

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“We support local veterans and our soldiers in whatever they need,” said Ann Kasel, secretary for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Austin (BYRA). “We provide community events and additional assistance to any soldiers in need if requested.”

Beyond the Yellow Ribbon originated in Minnesota and has since become a national organization with a mission of helping military personnel and their families. Former First Lady Michelle Obama was a strong supporter of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon during President Barack Obama’s time in office.

BYRA supports I Company, Second Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment of the Minnesota National Guard, which is currently stationed in Austin. The unit arrived in Austin from Faribault on Aug. 1 and is currently preparing for a deployment next year to the African country of Djibouti.

Pamela Hollrah-Asleson, who chairs the Christmas Committee and the Soldiers and Family Readiness Group for BYRA, said they are preparing the families for that deployment.

“During a deployment, we provide support and help them cope with that loss,” she said.

BYRA will assist families during the deployment process, whether it is helping with bills or getting them in touch with those that can help make repairs. BYRA also helps in reestablishing relationships between military personnel and their families once the deployment ends.

“Often they feel the family may be better off without them because they’re not the same person or the family may have established routines that they’re not used to,” Hollrah-Asleson said. “There is often that sense of being misplaced.”

“I think that people don’t understand that there is a pretty decent need to help support soldiers that transition in and out of active duty and their families,” said Kelly Nesvold, vice president of BYRA. “On a regular basis, there are things that arise. There is a period of time where they are transitioning from active duty and maybe they are looking to get a job, but they don’t have money to make that transition. We get requests for things like paying utility bills for a month so their family can continue to have heat and electricity. It’s things that we kind of take for granted because we’re not having to constantly transition back and forth from active duty and deployment to a regular job and family life. There are needs that the general public doesn’t see that we help fulfill and hopefully make the transition easier for them.”

“I was a military brat growing up,” Hollrah-Asleson said. “Not only do you have the summer deployment for a few weeks and one weekend a month if you’re in the National Guard, but you might have a longer training deployment that is a month or two. The National Guard is often thought of as supporting our state, but the National Guard has transitioned over the years and they are frequently asked to deploy.”

Opportunities to give

With the constant need to assist military families, BYRA is always looking for ways to help.

“We run on a very short budget, so we’re always looking for creative ways to raise money,” Kasel said. “We help with Bingo at the VFW once a month, so we sell Bingo cards. We’re always looking for creative new ways to generate funds to donate back to the community.”

“Right now what we offer to our soldiers is something called Operation Homefront, where people can go through Dollar Tree and when they purchase, the extra dollars go toward Christmas items or school items during the summer time,” Hollrah-Asleson said. “Our community has been very generous.”

BYRA has received assistance from local businesses. Nesvold said that Total Fitness Gym and B&J Bar and Grill are donating $500 to BYRA. B&J is offering a free meal on Veterans Day to anyone with a valid military ID, while Total Fitness is also allowing veterans who join on Veterans Day to work out for free that day and not have to pay the $50 enrollment fee.

Hy-Vee will be assisting BYRA with a fundraiser on Nov. 9.

“One of the things we’ve done that has been pretty successful is the Hy-Vee Round-Up,” Nesvold said. “Hy-Vee has been really good at working with us. They give us a period of time where we show up, we bag groceries, and we have a table where we can sell shirts we’ve designed. People can come to Hy-Vee 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 9, and they’ll be asked when the check out if they want to round up their purchase. They can round it up to the nearest dollar for just a few cents, or they can round it up $5, $10, $15 more and donate money toward the group. Whatever money is generated from that, Hy-Vee will cut a check and give it to the group as a donation.”

BYRA is also selling t-shirts, the proceeds of which will go toward military families. T-shirts will be available for purchase at Hy-Vee on Nov. 9 and can also be purchased through BYRA’s Facebook page at

Those looking to give a Christmas gift to a military family can do so now through noon on Friday, Dec. 20, by bringing it to the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Any monetary, physical or service gifts are appreciated and will be presented during the 2020 Christmas Party for the soldiers.

Donors can also arrange for gifts to be picked up by a member of the BYRA Steering Committee. To make arrangements, contact Hollrah-Asleson at 507-481-4469 or email with “BYRA Christmas” in the subject line. Checks can be made payable to BYRA with “NG Christmas Party” in the memo line.

General donations can also be made at VFW Post 1216, the National Guard Armory in Austin, or by contacting the BYRA Facebook page.

Hollrah-Asleson estimates BYRA receives about $2,000 in donations at Christmas time. She also said the community has given between $3,000 and $5,000 in gifts over the last several years.

“There are a lot of people coming together. It is not just a single thing; there is a lot of community support generated,” she said.

BYRA is also looking for members to be a part of the committee. Anyone interested can contact Kasel at 507-437-9943 or email