When Nicole Rice’s husband was on his first deployment they had a one-year-old daughter and a second daughter who had just been born. The only chance she had to complete the important task of shoveling snow was late at night when the kids were sleeping.
Her neighbors must have noticed her midnight snow shoveling ventures because one day a neighbor started shoveling her driveway.
An act of kindness goes a long way toward removing a heavy burden from the wife or husband handling daily chores and the spouse who is serving in the military overseas, Rice and many others said at a March 29 Beyond the Yellow Ribbon community meeting.
“It’s not about money or gift cards,” said Rice, a family readiness support assistant at the Anoka Armory. “It’s truly the little things that make a big difference in our lives.”
Some 75 people gathered the evening of March 29 at the Green Haven Golf and Banquet Center in Anoka to brainstorm about ways they could help service members and their families when a loved one is in a war zone or away from home for extended training.
The cities of Andover, Anoka, Champlin, Coon Rapids and Ramsey want to become Beyond the Yellow Ribbon communities. The March 29 meeting was the beginning of this organized initiative and a chance for the communities to get together and share what they already do to help service members and their families and what else can be done.
Scott Flickinger never served in the military, but pretty much everyone in his family has served so he started the Christ’s Cross Car and Craft Show at the Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Ham Lake to help the troops and their families as well as single parents. The seventh annual show is Aug. 25.
“I think it’s a good way for me to give back to military families for what they do every day,” Flickinger said.
Flickinger is with the faith-based group for this five-city Beyond the Yellow Ribbon effort. Some of the ideas they discussed included having troop recognition boards at the churches and sponsoring military families to assist with household chores or babysitting when a father or mother are overseas.
Matt Woitel served in the U.S. Marines from 1994 through 1998 and is now a detention sergeant and master Taser instructor with the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office. He is working with Sgt. Josh Hatton to develop a veterans reintegration program for sheriff’s office personnel coming home from a tour of duty. When someone is deployed, a liaison will be assigned to help out the families left behind.
Woitel said they raised about $1,800 in donations to send care packages to two sheriff’s office personnel currently serving overseas and to their children.
Master Sgt. David Denton, outreach coordinator for the Minnesota National Guard’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program, said there are many things a community can do to help those who are serving the country either by being in the military or being the spouse or child of someone in the military.
Hosting a class on resume writing and job interview tips would be useful, Denton said.
Service members have taken on some incredible challenges either by leading a group of people or driving a truck in a war zone without having any accidents, for example, according to Denton.
Rather than filling the resume with military acronyms, being able to go into depth about how the military job would help in the civilian working field is important to convey, Denton said.
There are financial resources for returning service members if they know where to look. The Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund and the Minnesota Patriot Guard are just a couple of organizations that can assist. The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon communities can help by sharing contact information for these organizations.
Having access to health care for veterans is important. A VA outpatient clinic recently opened in Ramsey.
Hanging American flags along city streets, including service members in parades or having a special recognition of them at halftime of a sports event makes the community more aware of the military families and the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon efforts, which may lead to more people helping out.
Cities can provide free meeting space for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon meetings, Denton said.
Its public safety departments could have special assistance programs, he said. For example, a fire district in Dakota County will provide free home inspections of fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. If batteries need to be replaced or a fire extinguisher is old, this fire district replaces them for free.
Michael and Pamela Schilling of Andover will listen to someone who needs to talk with someone who may have experienced what they went through or are going through.
Michael served in the Marines from 1967 to 1970 and was in Vietnam. Pamela grew up in Rome, N.Y., near the Griffiss Air Force Base, which is now closed.
Michael said there should have been a program like Beyond the Yellow Ribbon when service members returned from Vietnam.
It is his turn to help folks out, he said.
Talking helps and a veteran is sometimes more comfortable sharing things with another veteran because if a person did not have similar experiences, it can be hard to truly understand what is on the mind of a veteran, Michael said.
Although the cities of Andover, Anoka, Champlin, Coon Rapids and Ramsey are officially seeking Beyond the Yellow Ribbon designations, Denton said they can cross city boundaries to help people.
Other neighboring cities have expressed interest in being involved, he said. There were some Ham Lake residents in attendance, for example.
People interested in finding out more about the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program, or who want to find out how they can help, visit www.btyr.org.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]