Yellow Ribbon: Helping vets cope
Austin has failed several times to create a network of help for military families in need, and Monday night citizens gave it another shot.
Roughly 50 people — veterans, locals and city officials — attended the Yellow Ribbon meeting that showed people how a network of volunteers eases the pressures many military families face while their loved ones are deployed. Event organizers said since 9/11, there has been a need for Yellow Ribbon programs, as National Guardsmen don’t return to live on military bases where support is provided. They return straight home, and living situations often change.
“It’s so much worse now,” said Mayor Tom Stiehm, who is also a veteran.
But even though citizens have come together to create a network of helpers that is readily available for veterans, a local Yellow Ribbon still needs a chairperson in Austin and committed volunteers.
Without those pieces, Austin cannot get the Yellow Ribbon designation.
The Yellow Ribbon, which was Minnesota’s response to the worsening military family dilemmas after 9/11, was installed in 2007. But not every community has been tied together by the Yellow Ribbon, and Austin still has needs.
“There’s a need locally,” said Dawn Belden of Austin, whose daughter is currently in boot camp. Belden and James Decker, both VFW members, have a friend whose husband is deployed, and they’ve seen how a program like the Yellow Ribbon can help. Decker has gathered locals to help the woman fix her house while her husband is overseas — before she has a baby in December. Though the volunteers and military families don’t always know each other, there’s a mutual respect.
“All it takes is a phone call,” Decker said. “Any of us will come out and help.”
Decker added he’s seen a family go on food stamps because a single parent couldn’t provide for children while a spouse was deployed. The situation is confusing for many.
“Do you fix the roof or do you feed the kids?” Decker asked.
However, the military families come together because, “It’s a common bond,” Belden said.
That common bond is something Austin resident Samantha Hall is willing to share in, too. Her husband, Jordan, deployed with the Minnesota National Guard this month.
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is when you are on your own,” she said.
Hall attended Monday’s meeting to find out more about Yellow Ribbon because she also has a 2-year-old at home who will need baby-sitting, and she will need yard work and other tasks done. Having people she doesn’t personally know help her with everyday tasks doesn’t bother Hall, either.
“People who support the military are like family,” she said. “When your family is splitting up, you’ve got to rely on other people to help.”
Though people were willing to learn Monday and still want to help, the Yellow Ribbon program must go through a series of meetings with locals and city officials before it is implemented. Austin didn’t move much closer to getting the Yellow Ribbon designation Monday night. There is another meeting set for Sept. 12.
City council member Marian Clennon said she thinks locals can get things set up earlier if they start communicating directly. City officials and potential Yellow Ribbon-ers have a chairman in mind, but they still need the commitment of others. Clennon hopes to set something up before more military families in Austin see their loved ones leave from the sendoff ceremony Aug. 18, in Austin.
To find out how to join the Yellow Ribbon program, contact the city of Austin.