Yellow Ribbon participants lean on all types of support

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mary Andom
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

When Capt. Kristin Broullire’s husband couldn’t attend the February Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event in Denver, she didn’t despair.

Her brother, David Espiau, was right there by her side.

Broullire, a C-130 Hercules pilot from the 731st Airlift Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, decided to turn the trip into a family event.

“Yellow Ribbon is open to everyone, and I like that concept,” she said. “It’s not just for the military member. It is for the best friend, the spouse, the sibling, the Moms and Dads.”

Reserve Citizen Airmen scheduled to deploy can attend one Yellow Ribbon event for pre-deployment and two events within one year of returning from a deployment. They can bring two adult guests.

The program promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. It began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles.

Each year, the Air Force Reserve program trains approximately 7,000 reservists and those closest to them in education benefits, health care, interpersonal communication, retirement information and more.

After attending a Yellow Ribbon event in Chicago last April as a post-deployer, Broullire wanted to share this wealth of information with her brother, so she invited him to the event.

And since they were both in Colorado together, Broullire decided to take a few days of leave, and the siblings went on an impromptu ski trip and a tour of local breweries.

The Feb. 21-23 event emphasized the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness to include mental, physical, social and spiritual wellness.

They attended a 30-minute meditation session where they learned techniques on how to breathe and sleep better. Espiau, who is getting married in April, also attended a breakout session focused on developing healthy relationship habits.

“I plan to share this with my fiancée,” he said. “I think it’s awesome that the military has these types of programs.”

Reserve Citizen Airmen are encouraged to invite anyone in their support system who play a vital role in supporting them throughout the deployment cycle, said 1st Lt. Karlene Huggins, the Yellow Ribbon event manager.

“Most of the time, our Airmen bring their spouse and children,” she said. “However, many of our deployers aren’t in a traditional family, but they still have a support network of close relationships.”

Staff Sgt. Merari Antunez, a 439th Airlift Wing administration journeyman from Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts, encouraged her boyfriend to attend the event, so they could navigate the deployment process as a couple.

“We are learning together,” Antunez said. “Every deployer and their support system should attend a Yellow Ribbon. As soon as you think you are ready, you are introduced to a new organization filled with many resources.”

For Antunez, this will be her first deployment in nine years as a traditional reservist. For her boyfriend, Cesar Rios, the event proved to be a crash course into military life.

“Man, there is a ton of information the military gives its members,” Rios said. “It is a lot to take in.”

While standing in line for lunch, Antunez pulled out her notebook and discussed with Rios her laundry list of tasks. She plans on following up on the information gleaned from the various sessions.

“I didn’t know some of these resources existed,” she said. “From the Red Cross notification system to the financial programs for deployed service members, Yellow Ribbon is such a valuable resource.”

During lunch, Rios broke bread with service members in her unit. He listened intently as they shared the experiences from prior deployments.

“I’m finally starting to pick up the lingo,” he said. “I finally know what the terms first sergeant, key spouse and traditional reservist mean.”

Antunez said she wanted her boyfriend to have a support system of his own.

“I want him to know he is not alone,” she said. “He is now part of a big family. There are spouses and significant others here who he can lean on. If he has questions, doubts, or concerns, he now knows where to turn to.”

Rios attended a breakout session called the Warrior Support forum to help ease the transition for Antunez when she returns from her deployment.

“Every couple is different, you need to have a constant line of communication and be straightforward with your expectations,” he said. “When she returns I plan to ask her what she needs, whether it is time or space so I can support her.”