Deployers, families learn communication, deployment skills at Yellow Ribbon event Published April 22, 2011 By Tech. Sgt. Scott P. Farley 310th Space Wing Public Affairs PHOENIX (AFNS) -- More than 80 Air Force Reserve members and their families, from 15 bases nationwide, attended the western regional Yellow Ribbon Program event here April 15-17. The event focused on tackling communication strategies and myriad deployment issues, including preparing for the day-to-day challenges experienced throughout the cycle of the deployment process. The reservists in attendance were either preparing to deploy or returning from a deployment. However, these challenges not only face the returning and pre-deployers, but their family and friends who are the foundation of support during the whole process, said event leaders. "In today's economy, to be able to give back to these people for the sacrifices they've made is huge," said Lazette Bretthorst, the resource advisor for the Yellow Ribbon Program. "Allowing them to spend time as a family, even if it is just for 72 hours, brings down their stress levels and gives them special moments, especially for pre-deployers." Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague, the assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard Matters, kicked off the event speaking about the many hurdles facing guardsmen and reservists. He also spoke about the value of the breadth of experience and skills these men and women bring to the military, which, he pointed out, has become one of the most respected professions in the U.S. General McKeague also fielded questions from the audience about many of the problems facing deploying reservists and guardsmen. "In order for us to do our job, we need to know what is happening where the rubber meets the road," General McKeague said. "The only way to do that is to come out into the field and to interact with citizen warriors and their families and to hear firsthand the challenges they're facing. We need to hear what's working and what's not, to help us go back and shape our engagements with (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Adm. (Michael) Mullen, the Secretary of Defense (Robert Gates), and the Reserve component chiefs." The Yellow Ribbon Program is part of that shaping process to ease the difficulty for reservists as they transition to and from civilian life, he added. The two days of break-out sessions included topics such as stress management, couples enrichment, parenting and communications. The attendees also received briefings from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Military One Source, military finance and TRICARE. Master Sgt. Randy Pantle, who attended the event with his wife Michaela, said returning back to normal life was fairly easy after his deployment, but he and his wife still were able to garner a lot of valuable information from the Phoenix event. "It helped us discover what tools are available to us," Sergeant Pantle said. "What is available to us is unbelievable, but we also have been able to meet other people who've been through the things we have been through." According to Ms. Bretthorst, since the Yellow Ribbon Program has taken on a more regional concept in this fiscal year, it has allowed the program to focus more on the programs, including the youth programs. "We have grown our youth program," she said. "Our youth programs have become very standardized. It isn't just child care. They have an agenda and they have activities that revolve around having their ownership into the deployment process, from the 5-year-old to the 18-year-old." The next western regional Yellow Ribbon Program event is scheduled for May 12-14 in Tempe, Ariz.