GLENEDEN BEACH, Ore. --
GLENEDEN BEACH, Ore-- "A lot of people don't know I was suicidal twice in my life," but after deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan several times Army Staff Sgt. Eddie Black found himself homeless, living out of his truck.
Today his life is radically different, he stands before a group of Yellow Ribbon Program participants; service members and their families who are either preparing to deploy or have returned from overseas combat zones. Black is the Oregon Army Guard Resiliency Program Coordinator and he is using his experiences in 'bouncing back' from personal lows to help others who have followed in his footsteps. Among his audience are members of the 173rd Fighter Wing's Security Forces Squadron who performed the first outside-the-wire tasking for six months in 2012. Not that other Air Force Security Forces haven't performed outside the wire but this mission was exclusively so, and that is a first for Oregon Air National Guard Security Forces troops.
Members who have deployed for 90 days or more are required to attend YRP training once they return home. Now it might sound like work but the program goes out of its way to make the experience enjoyable and relaxing in some people's eyes. The Oregon Air National Guard YRP Coordinator negotiates with quality venues, in this case Salishan Lodge, to house attendees at the government rate over an event weekend. The program foots the bill and those attending are encouraged to bring their families, who are a significant part of the program's focus. It's common to hear speakers thank service members for their sacrifice and in the next breath extend that thanks to their families, in direct acknowledgement that these missions require a family's contribution and sacrifice as well.
Among the many tables in the main meeting room sit six women. Their children are in the provided day camp and their husbands are all deployed overseas in a combat zone with the 142nd Security Forces Squadron. The ORANG YRP Coordinator Amy Schmid refers to them as mid-deployers, and says it's important to have them here.
"We realized a few years ago we weren't reaching the spouses and loved ones who might be geographically separated," Schmid said. "Loved Ones are entitled to attend a mid-deployment event on invitational orders. This provides us a tangible way to connect directly with them. When Yellow Ribbon takes care of loved ones, loved ones are better able to support and care for their service member. Service members are, in turn; better able to serve our state and our Nation."
The six women acknowledge how welcome the weekend is and Kelly Roper, wife of Tech. Sgt. Grant Roper says it's the first time they've been able to make their busy schedules coincide. The obvious problem being that supporting a deployed family member and taking care of a household keeps them very busy.
Around the room sit an additional 170 service members and their invited guests, including Marine Reservists. These troops converged from around the state and were greeted by Brig. Gen. Michael Stencil and Keynote speaker Sporty King who together set the tone for the weekend.
In the Keynote, "We need to acknowledge how we may have grown and changed from our experiences," King said, and he continued by saying that old friendships may have changed and that it may not be possible to pick up where one left off. King stressed family health and open communication with spouses and loved ones are essential. After the official welcome, a review of the agenda, and an introduction to long list of service providers on site, participants were released to breakout sessions ranging in subject matter: marriage enrichment, financial counseling, managing stress and resiliency to name a few.
Reenter Black guiding his listeners through the psychology of PTSD and why a person's brain may need some retraining for life back home away from the rigors of the front line. When asked he says he's seeking to give permission to returning deployers to acknowledge they may be having some issues with reintegration. His approach is to detail his own issues and point out that through the Yellow Ribbon Program he left his suicidal thoughts in the rearview mirror.
The program wasn't limited to lecture style breakout sessions. On-demand counseling, Legal support and Chaplain Services were made available over the duration of the weekend. Organizations geared to a vast range of veteran and family member needs came from around the state and even further to support, everything from the American Red Cross to USAA to Tricare were on-hand.
These events are scheduled every quarter through the end of 2013. For more information on the national program visit www.yellowribbon.mil or to register for an event in Oregon visit: www.jointservicessupport.org