Minnesota's Veterans: The Road Back Home
SFC Melanie Nelson, Minnesota Director of Marketing and Communications, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, Minnesota National Guard Deployment Cycle Support
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is a program pioneered by the Minnesota National Guard to change how soldiers and airmen are reintegrated back to their communities. Its mission is to empower leadership, servicemembers and families by providing relevant training, services, and resources throughout the deployment cycle.
Comments by SFC Melanie Nelson
Question: What are some of the challenges facing veterans who have been gone for a while, and are coming back to Minnesota?
The hot one for this group coming back is employment. I spoke to a woman just yesterday on the phone, her husband was laid off just a couple of months before he was activated, so the activation was a blessing because he had a job again. Now he's coming home, and he's still laid off. That's a big problem — one third of the soldiers coming back this month are not going to have a job. That is the most immediate issue, which is not a normal thing for us. We've got programs in place for families and youth and all the mental counseling you need, but this is a new one for us, so we are working with employers.
Question: So what role does the Yellow Ribbon program play in assisting returning veterans with these issues?
A Yellow Ribbon company is a company that goes above and beyond, and has a sustainable action plan that supports service members and their families within their organization. Over the summer, Target Corporation and Marvin Windows became the first two Yellow Ribbon companies. In the fall we had 3M come aboard, and now just on Tuesday we had six new companies onboard as Yellow Ribbon companies. That's only a few, but you have to start somewhere to honor what the service members and their families do for them. We got several hundred soldiers back over Memorial weekend that were deployed out of St. Paul, so we had opportunities for them to come in and review their resumes with a professional, and go over interview skills, because they might be out of that, and forgotten how to do that after being gone for a year. And when we go out and speak with companies, we always just go over these things that soldiers have that maybe civilians don't — like respect for procedure, and teamwork, and knowing how to deal with diversity. Those are regular things for us.
Question: What would you tell an employer to encourage that employer to hire someone who has completed military service?
I can give you a bullet list of 20 things that military members have. There is that respect for procedure, efficiency, performance under pressure, acceptance of diversity. There is an accelerated learning curve, because often times in the military, we may be a cook, but we are thrown into a position where they need a postal carrier right now. So it's the ability to adapt very quickly, teamwork, leadership. Integrity is one of our Army values. We are very conscious about health and safety standards — safety is very important in the military, obviously, it has to be. Our service members have been proven to triumph over adversity, and to be committed to those that they work for — skills they have with us that carry over.
Question: What is it that Yellow Ribbon employers have agreed to do, that is above and beyond, that perhaps other employers may not do?
Whatever it is that they can do. All we are asking of them is to sit down and create an action plan to identify what they can do, and will do, for military families in a sustainable fashion. After the company has decided they are at a point where they are good to go, they send an action plan to us. It's reviewed at a couple of different levels, and it's passed on to the Governor's office for approval.
Question: Beyond employment, what are some of the other challenges returning servicemembers face?
Relationships are always a big one — it's always part of all of our workshops, whether it's a father-son, husband-wife, brother-sister relationship — every relationship changes. So that's a big one.
With some of these guys who are deployed, their wives are nervous to tell anyone that their husband's gone, because they don't want to feel like they're alone. So we are trying so hard to create these Yellow Ribbon communities, so the families back home feel comfortable in their community, and they're taken care of. That's the reason why Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is here — because they are your neighbors, and you don't even know it. But they're right next door.