December 31, 2008 – The Montana National Guard is strengthening support for soldiers and airmen deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Beginning in January, the Montana Yellow Ribbon program will hold workshops for National Guard service members before, during and after deployment. The workshops also will be available to family members.
Officials say the goal is to improve access to an array of services, such as health care and assistance in finding civilian work after time in the military.
“Basically, we want to take as much stress away from them as possible,” said Capt. Adam Karlin of Helena, deployment cycle support program manager. “Before, soldiers had to kind of go around different places (to find help). Now, we’ve got it coming to them.”
The Yellow Ribbon program is the latest addition to the National Guard’s program to support soldiers, created after the March 2007 suicide of 23-year-old Christopher Dana of Helena, who had served in Iraq.
After Dana’s death, Gov. Brian Schweitzer and then-Adjutant Gen. Randy Moseley ordered a review of whether the Montana National Guard was doing enough for soldiers returning from combat. The report found the state was meeting or exceeding Defense Department requirements, but said that wasn’t enough and made 14 recommendations.
The Guard has since created a crisis response team and requires returning soldiers to enroll in Department of Veterans Affairs health services and undergo mental health exams.
Under the Yellow Ribbon program, before soldiers are sent to war, a family preparatory academy will be held to introduce families and service members to the services they may need, from legal affairs to counselors to chaplains.
When soldiers are close to returning home at the end of their deployment, an academy for family members will be held.
“We’ll talk about what to expect when their service member comes home,” Karlin said. “They’ve been gone for a year – they’ve changed, and you’ve also changed.”
Academies to help soldiers reintegrate with their families and civilian society will be held one month after the soldier returns home. The VA will also explain services soldiers are eligible for.
The second workshop two months after soldiers return will bring in employers looking to hire veterans and mental health professionals to talk about substance abuse, anger management and counseling options.
“We want service members and their families to understand the challenges of deployment and know there are resources out there,” Karlin said. “We do a good job of training them to go to war. This is our commitment to ensure they come all the way home – successfully.”