Beyond the Yellow Ribbon proclamation caps 15-month process
It was not a typical commute for the caravan headed south from Forest Lake into the metro last Wednesday – it was the final leg of a long journey.
It was also the road to a celebration, as Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie proclaimed Forest Lake to be a Yellow Ribbon City during an emotional ceremony at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Richfield.
For the group of about a dozen representing Forest Lake, the occasion was cause for hugs, tears and high-fives.
Why all the hubbub for a designation?
Not only does it mark the culmination of more than a year’s work, it also makes Forest Lake one of the few cities in the north metro to have in place such a framework of support for veterans, current service members and their families.
Setting the Framework
In 2008, the Minnesota National Guard founded Beyond the Yellow Ribbon (BTYR), a combat veteran reintegration program providing service members and their families a network of support. It is modeled after the Department of Defense’s Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, but extends a wider range of services. Specifically, it does not limit its functions to the 90-day-post-deployment mark. Rather, it extends its services to all veterans.
“The whole thing is beyond the yellow ribbon,” says Vietnam War veteran Roger Fredsall, the VFW Post 4210 senior vice commander. “The Yellow Ribbon is originally and normally designed to welcome people back – you have your 90-day reintegration program. It turns out that a lot of these people need assistance past the 90 days, and that’s where this Beyond the Yellow Ribbon came on.”
Participation statewide has grown steadily to over 200 communities. Other than Blaine and Hugo, though, there was a void to the north of the Twin Cities.
Fredsall was among the first handful of locals who came together last year to explore the idea of Forest Lake joining Beyond the Yellow Ribbon. The group first met late that July, a steering committee was formed and a fall festival that October signaled the official start of the march toward BTYR designation.
The group’s eagerness showed through several events and efforts. In addition to the fall festival, it held a holiday party for children, went caroling, sponsored a family for Christmas, sent care packages to troops, entered a float in the Fourth of July Parade and served about 250 people at a military appreciation picnic at Lakeside Park in July.
“They’ve told us we’ve done more things before we became a Yellow Ribbon City than some of the actual Yellow Ribbon Cities have done,” says American Legion Post 225 Commander Krista Goodyear, who chairs the BTYR steering committee.
Events are only one part of what the program is all about, though. While the board worked on draft after draft of the action plan required for BTYR consideration, volunteers mowed and raked yards, cleaned gutters, offered plumbing services and the like.
Such services will continue to form the backbone of the local chapter. A network of individuals and businesses have pledged to offer free and reduced products or labor.
Having those contacts in place has opened doors. For example, a local family in mourning recently wanted to direct memorials to a family of a service member. Roberts Family Funeral Home, a member of the local BTYR group, informed the steering committee, which located a family who needed help paying for child care. The memorial amount matched just what the family needed.
“A lot of these services are already in place at both the VFW and the American Legion. This just kinds of dovetails in and brings everybody in, and brings all the different pieces of the community in,” says Goodyear, noting that the executive committee has representatives from the school district, churches, hospitals, public safety organizations and the city government. “It reaches a broader range of people than just the VFW and the American Legion.”
Still, the BTYR group is always looking for more locals in need. The biggest challenge is not securing the help but getting those in need to reach out for it. It is not like the old days where returning veterans quickly joined the Legion or VFW.
“The younger generation, they’re just kind of trickling in,” says Goodyear. “They’re coming back and they’re going to school and getting married and having families, so the Legion and the VFW are not getting them in to request help.”
The steering committee is confident that last week’s proclamation will increase awareness of the local chapter. Plus, it will continue to host events. Organizers hope to make the military appreciation picnic an annual fundraiser. Another effort already is, as the group’s second annual fall festival will take place this Saturday at the Legion hall. Booya, a meat raffle and a Texas hold’em tournament are on tap from 1-6 p.m., with live music starting at 7 p.m.
Making it Official
Forest Lake joined Chaska and Chanhassen as the newest Yellow Ribbon Cities last Wednesday.
The ceremony was brief and to the point, yet full of excitement and pride.
Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard, Major General Richard Nash, expressed his thanks to the new chapters and said he hears firsthand of the program’s success.
“It is through the leadership of patriotic Minnesotans like all of you here today that the lives of our service members and families have been impacted so positively,” he said. “Each of you certainly model the behavior of how communities unite, come together, synchronize your support for our service members, veterans, family members and our employers and I sincerely appreciate all that you do and all that you will be doing in our three new communities.”
Secretary of State Ritchie then took the podium for the moment everyone had been waiting for. He read the three proclamations as one-by-one the delegations met with Maj. Gen. Nash and other officials and received a banner.
“We take care of each other in Minnesota; in times of need we are especially attentive,” Ritchie said. “But we also know that in other times we need to build the structures so that they’re there when we especially need them, and that’s what the Yellow Ribbon program is – part of building that structure for the times we shall see but also the things we can’t imagine but we know will challenge us in the near future.”