Approximately 75 people gathered at the Green Haven Golf and Banquet Center in Anoka over nine months ago to kick off an effort to find ways to help military service members and their families through the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program.
About a dozen people were at Anoka City Hall Jan. 9 to take another step toward kick-starting this initiative.
There are 213 Yellow Ribbon networks in Minnesota. Annette Brechon Kuyper, director of military outreach for the Minnesota Army National Guard, said when the National Guard and Reserve after 9/11 started being used as supplements to the nation’s military, the Guard wanted to look at replicating the services that active duty service members received when they came back from a deployment.
Farmington became the first Yellow Ribbon city in 2007. At the same time, the Guard and Reserve was doing it own reintegration training for its service members returning home. Beyond the Yellow Ribbon seeks to help every service member, however, regardless what military branch they served in.
The first order of business is to determine which communities are going to be involved. The communities initially involved at the March 29, 2012 kick-off meeting were Andover, Anoka, Champlin, Coon Rapids and Ramsey. Not all these communities have had representatives attend the last two evening meetings at Anoka City Hall. There was also a meeting Dec. 11, 2012.
Kuyper believes it is best to pool together resources, although she said some communities like Blaine have been successful at going at it alone.
“We’ve seen success with several cities come together, we’ve seen success with individual cities,” Kuyper said.
Unlike the last time around, there is a local leader to spearhead this group.
Daryl “Butch” Hathaway Jr., a physical education teacher at the Champlin-Brooklyn Park Academy for Math and Environmental Science, served on active duty in the United States Navy from 1985 through 1989 at a submarine base in Groton, Conn. In 1991, he joined the U.S. Navy Reserves and retired in 1998 at the rank of petty officer first class.
Hathaway also has some perspective on what it is like to be the child of a service member. He went to seven different schools by the time he was 15. He was born in San Diego, Calif., then moved to Norfolk, Conn., Groton, Conn., back to San Diego, to Washington State, to Hawaii, back to San Diego and finishing off at Groton, Conn.
His father was born and raised in Anoka, so Hathaway eventually ended up back in the Twin Cities.
“Now that I am retired (from the military) I want to give back to the men and women that serve,” Hathaway said. “It’s not about me. It’s about this committee.”
The committee is still being formed and it will be broken into several subcommittees to bring together community leaders from different sectors, including city government, faith based, law enforcement, education, veterans organizations and business/employers.
Some have already committed to being involved. Everyone has their own story about why they wanted to volunteer their time for this cause.
Steve Ruud of Ramsey was in the U.S. Army from 1968 through 1970 until he was honorably discharged after being wounded in Vietnam in 1969. He is a member of the Disabled American Veterans Anoka County Chapter 39, the Anoka County Chapter 470 Vietnam Veterans.
When he went to work for Federal Cartridge in Anoka he found out the company went out of its way to hire veterans and that meant a lot to him. Ruud wants to go out of his way to keep helping veterans today, he said.
Ruud will be working with Laura Bartley, deputy director of the Anoka County Veterans Service Office, to coordinate with veterans support organizations that are already doing a lot today to help veterans. Beyond the Yellow Ribbon just seeks to combine all these resources into one comprehensive contact list.
Ruud and Hathaway are teaming up for the faith-based organizations subcommittee as well.
Renee Blue’s father Ray Anderson was a World War II veteran, her brother Paul Anderson was in the Vietnam War and her brother Neal Anderson served in the military in the late 1970s.
As a kindergarten teacher at Rum River Elementary School in Andover, Renee Blue has organized an extensive Veterans Day program the last few years. During last year’s program, about 90 veterans who had some connections with people at the school were invited to be a part of the program so they could individually introduce themselves.
Blue is being joined by Julie Blaha on the education subcommittee. Blaha is the president of Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota, which is the union representation for the teachers.
Mike Whitaker is a patrol officer for the Anoka Police Department and was deployed three times during his 23 years in the Army and National Guard, including Central America in the 1980s and during the first Gulf War in late 1990 and early 1991. His last deployment was to Iraq between 2004 and 2005.
In a previous interview with ABC Newspapers, Whitaker said it made a big impression on him when a family assistance program out of the Anoka Armory and other citizens helped out his wife when she moved to a new home and needed help paying some bills.
Whitaker will be one of the leaders of the law enforcement/judicial subcommittee.
Patrick Brama, who works for the city of Ramsey, is on the city leadership subcommittee. Both his brothers served in the military. One just got back from Afghanistan and the other one was in Iraq.
Tony Bezenar owns Marshland Gun Dogs in Anoka, which is a business to raise hunting dogs, and he is on the business/employers subcommittee. He has taken military service members from the Anoka Armory out pheasant hunting in the past on his dime. He is an active member of the Anoka American Legion and the American Legion Riders’ group that helps escort busses of troops and welcomes them home. This group raises money for the Legacy Scholarship Fund, which is a Legion program that assists children of fallen soldiers.
Many people in Bezenar’s family circle have served in the military, but he never did.
“This is my way of giving back,” Bezenar said.
Bezenar said the best way to get people involved is to make more aware that this Beyond the Yellow Ribbon initiative is going on.
“(Service members) need security knowing their family will be well taken care of when they’re gone and when they come back, there will be a reintegration to their life,” Bezenar said.
Those interested in being a part of this Yellow Ribbon initiative can call Hathaway at 763-506-6041 or email him at [email protected].
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]