Virtual Yellow Ribbon Event Provides Resources to Help Airmen Before, During, After Deployments

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Michael Hong
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing

18 Reserve Citizen Airmen and 7 of their spouses with the 514th Air Mobility Wing, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and the 459th Air Refueling Wing, Joint Base Andrews, Md.,  participated in the first fully virtual Air Force Reserve Command Yellow Ribbon Program event, October 24-25, 2020. This event was realized in order to conform to COVID-19 restrictions while also maintaining the Air Force Reserve Command’s commitment to reform the organization in key areas to compete, deter, and win in all environments while maintaining its cost-effectiveness.

The Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Program is a series of events designed to provide members and families with essential resources prior to departure, a level of stability and support while deployed, and successful reintegration techniques after the deployment cycle ends.

For the Air Force Reserve, deployments during the pandemic are still being executed to fulfil the needs of national defense. With deployments comes the need for leadership to take care of their deploying Airmen and their Airmen’s loved ones.

“Whether in-person or virtual, the information shared and the resources that are emphasized are the same,” said Col. Thomas Pemberton, commander, 514 AMW. “It is still great knowledge that will help the member and their families before, during and after the deployment.”

Virtual Yellow Ribbon events serve an example of Reserve Citizen Airmen striving to meet one of the Air Force Reserve’s strategic priorities—reforming the Air Force Reserve, which emphasizes the need for Airmen to have the courage to change organizationally and mitigate obstacles so they can continue to serve our nation optimally.

“With COVID-19 preventing in-person Yellow Ribbon events from occurring, I wanted to do as much as we could to give them the Yellow Ribbon event experience–the knowledge, the contacts and the sense that the Air Force cares about them and their families,” said Master Sgt. Anthony Gallela, 514 AMW Yellow Ribbon Representative. “This virtual event for our deployers came out of that.”

A total of 12 breakout sessions were conducted throughout the course of two days. This is comparable to the experience members would have received at a regional AFRC YRP event, albeit the members would have been able to choose from a catalog of classes for some of their breakout sessions at a typically larger regional event.

“I really liked the financial life coach,” said Senior Airman Jennifer Azer, 714th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “She was very upbeat, and I learned a lot from her.”

The information provided in this event was vastly localized for the members of the 514th, who formed the majority of the participant pool. For example, the first breakout session, the essential resources and services–Judge Advocate, Financial Management, First Sergeant and Airmen and Family Readiness–briefing was conducted by members of the 514th: Lt. Col. Mark Miller, 514 AMW Judge Advocate General; Staff Sgt. Jake Mazza, 514 AMW; Senior Master Sgt. Steven Porras, 714th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant; and Master Sgt. Jeremy Stidham, 514 AMW Airmen and Family Readiness non-commissioned officer.

Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Jones, the Yellow Ribbon public affairs manager, said the event was effective at meeting the mission to connect Airmen and their loved ones with resources throughout the deployment cycle, but said that virtual events are only a temporary substitute for face-to-face, in-person events in which Reserve Citizen Airmen can network with and learn alongside their leaders, resource providers and subject-matter experts.

Jones, who served as the event’s emcee, said virtual platforms have one distinct advantage over face-to-face events.

“If you have to cut-off a special forces Reconnaissance Marine who’s also a world-class MMA champion, it’s best to do it virtually,” Jones said in regard to interrupting one speaker went past his time limit. “If the event was face-to-face, I would have practiced good operational risk management and let him keep talking. Safety first!”

While this was the Air Force Reserve’s first completely virtual Yellow Ribbon event, Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 624th Regional Support Group at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, previously hosted an event with in-person and virtual attendees.