A community program offers counseling on marriage, parenting and other issues to help soldiers and families through a challenging transition.
It took Jodi Kelly roughly three months to realize why she had been so stressed.
Her husband Ken had returned in July from a yearlong deployment to Kosovo. As the Farmington couple adjusted to the new school year for their kids, the mother of three found herself getting frustrated with the things her husband was doing to help and she couldn't understand why. Eventually, it dawned on her:
"Doing the laundry. Picking up the kids. Getting them to their activities. All of those things, I was used to having every minute of my day planned to make sure I got everything done ... All of a sudden, I have this extra body that can do and wanted to do these things," she said. "I had gotten into a rigid routine and didn't even realize it until he started to step back in and help out."
It's the kind of story played out among many military families and perhaps one that those outside the military don't quite understand. Yet several south metro cities are working to bridge that understanding and foster community support through a Minnesota reintegration initiative called "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon."
Eagan, Burnsville and Farmington have already embraced the mission of the initiative and formed active grass-roots campaigns to offer support for local military service members. Rosemount is the latest south-of-the-river city to join, preparing to introduce the program at a community meeting in December.
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is a 3-year-old Minnesota National Guard program that offers 30-, 60- and 90-day reintegration sessions on marriage, parenting, employment, benefits, and, if needed, anger management and help coping with substance abuse. The program has been so successful that the United States Congress this year mandated that all states have a reintegration program for returning National Guard soldiers.
An extension of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is the Warrior to Citizen campaign, started by the University of Minnesota's Center for Democracy and Citizenship. It picks up where the National Guard's initial reintegration sessions left off, encouraging the community to continue offering support.
Whether it's educating police departments or schools about the challenges faced by veterans and their families, offering free babysitting services, organizing support groups or offering business specials for veterans, there are plenty of chances for communities to get involved.
State Command Sgt. Major Scott Mills, of Farmington, said the goal is to provide enough support so the soldiers become well-adjusted to being back home and to "give the family back what they sent overseas."
"[The National Guard] doesn't get to see them in their communities. The community gets to see them. If we can't support them because we're not in their communities, we're asking the community to help us make sure these folks are being taken care of and that we bring them all the way home."
And to help lead the way, Mills and fellow Farmington resident Annette Kuyper have been working to set the model for how Warrior to Citizen groups can get started in other communities. Supporters are hoping to get Farmington designated as Minnesota's first "Yellow Ribbon city."
Kuyper, whose son Jared was deployed to Iraq from September 2005 to July 2007, said she knows what military families go through when their loved ones are deployed overseas. It can be isolating, she said.
"We didn't want to be just another organization that sat down and made cards and sent care packages. We want to build that relationship with military families and have them see Farmington as a community that goes the extra mile and continually supports and honors military families."
Kimberly Price of Farmington noticed the difference when her husband, Matt, was deployed twice with the National Guard. Beyond the Yellow Ribbon didn't exist when he returned the first time, but it did the second time.
"It was really different the first time. Right when he came home, there really wasn't any follow-up to see how anybody was doing," Kimberly Price said. "With the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program, they really stressed how your soldiers are doing and how the family is doing."
On Dec. 4, Rosemount will host a community meeting for city leaders, business people, educators, churches and other residents to better understand the needs of their servicemen and servicewomen. Rosemount Mayor Bill Droste said it's "absolutely critical" for the city to support programs like this.
Jeannine Aquino • 952-882-9056