Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program in the Great Smoky Mountains

A yellow ribbon blows in the breeze outside the hotel in Gatlinburg, Tenn., during a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25.  (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

A yellow ribbon blows in the breeze outside the hotel in Gatlinburg, Tenn., during a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25. (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Gatlinburg, Tenn., provided a relaxing weekend retreat for 13 Airmen and their families at a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25.  (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Gatlinburg, Tenn., provided a relaxing weekend retreat for 13 Airmen and their families at a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25. (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

The foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tenn., at a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25.  (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

The foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tenn., at a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25. (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Tech. Sgt. Cynthia Owens, Dobbins’ Yellow Ribbon program manager, welcomes servicemembers and their families to a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25.  (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Tech. Sgt. Cynthia Owens, Dobbins’ Yellow Ribbon program manager, welcomes servicemembers and their families to a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25. (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Lt. Col. Todd Laughman, 94th Mission Support Group commander, welcomes attendees to a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25.  (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Lt. Col. Todd Laughman, 94th Mission Support Group commander, welcomes attendees to a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25. (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Kids are engaged in entertaining games geared toward their age group while their parents attend the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25, in Gatlinburg, Tenn.  (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Kids are engaged in entertaining games geared toward their age group while their parents attend the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25, in Gatlinburg, Tenn. (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Retired Lt. Col. Chaplain John Groth spoke to the group in Gatlinburg, Tenn., at a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25.  (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Retired Lt. Col. Chaplain John Groth spoke to the group in Gatlinburg, Tenn., at a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25. (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Tech. Sgt. Cynthia Owens, Dobbins’ Yellow Ribbon program manager (right) talks with attendees in Gatlinburg, Tenn., at a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25.  (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

Tech. Sgt. Cynthia Owens, Dobbins’ Yellow Ribbon program manager (right) talks with attendees in Gatlinburg, Tenn., at a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25. (U.S. Air Force photo/J.D. Marckmann)

DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. -- The foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tenn., provided a relaxing weekend retreat for 13 Airmen and their families at a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, July 23-25. Lt. Col. Todd Laughman, 94th Mission Support Group commander, welcomed attendees to the program and was followed by guest speakers who conducted workshops.

Every base has a Yellow Ribbon program manager who plans post-deployment trips to a vacation-type location within a few hours' driving distance of the military installation. Tech. Sgt. Cynthia Owens, Dobbins' Yellow Ribbon program manager, said, "Even though this isn't a full-fledged formal-type of military function, it gives them (family members) the opportunity to learn and understand the workings of the military, and certainly to better understand the circumstances that their sponsor is put in."

The voluntary and highly-recommended Yellow Ribbon program is geared to provide a relaxed setting where servicemembers and their immediate family can learn about post-deployment resources and enjoy a mini-vacation away from their normal home setting, which helps them reintegrate from overseas deployments back into family life and address the issues of everyday life.

The program funding covers expenses of servicemembers and their immediate families, including per diem for the military members, mileage reimbursement and lodging expenses. No-cost child care for minors is provided and kids are engaged in entertaining games geared toward their age group while their parents attend the program.

During the event, attendance at workshops is required over a 2-day period. Guest speakers explain the numerous professional and self-help resources that are available back home, to include finances, health and counselor services.

Guest speaker and retired Lt. Col. (Chaplain) John Groth, spoke to the group about his struggles with depression and how it took a family member to shock him into reality. His light-hearted self-deprecation approach to offering serious advice for dealing with life's issues was a highlight of the welcome session.

Regarding the need of post-deployment help, Owens said, "Either people can self-identify or the consultant can say 'I think that person needs some further assistance.' Oftentimes people don't see it in themselves. As chaplain Groth was saying, 'you know you just think I got it and I'm just good, and it takes an outsider to look and say no, something's wrong, you're not the same.' So that's why we need this program, and we need the support of leadership so much, but we're starting to get it now; that's why Lt. Col. Laughman's here."

Each workshop is up to an hour in length and the topics include: relationship and family issues; singles reintegration; stress management; stretching money in a tight economy; staying positive and motivated; and marriage as the great adventure.

"The goal of the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program is to help families understand we do know the unique challenges they are facing when they separate for a while and try to sustain themselves on both ends during that separation, and reintegrating back into their family life," said Angela Pedersen, Airman and Family Readiness director at Dobbins. "We want them to know there are tons of resources available to them that will help make that transition easier."

Laughman offers his advice to Airmen in the redeployment period: "You have to trust your family and friends to get over the tough spots, because no matter where you went or what you did, being away from home for six months is going to change things. In some cases the changes are going to be great and in some cases they will be small, but there's always change, and you've got to trust your support group and you've got to be honest with them."

After the first day's workshops, a few families ventured out to nearby attractions for family fun to include Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum and the Aquarium of the Smokies. Future post-deployment attendees can have their own choice of family fun, games and learning adventures and it's all available by just signing up through their base Airman and Family Readiness office (formerly known as Family Support Services).

The next Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event planned by Dobbins is tentatively scheduled to occur in the fall. For further information, contact the Airman and Family Readiness office at 678-655-5004.