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Lending support to military families

Yellow Ribbon organizers stay active in Marshall area

Photo by Jim Tate The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon groups from Marshall and Southwest Minnesota State University sponsored a field day for military families a week ago at SMSU. The event, organized by former Minnesota Viking Leo Lewis, was a pilot activity that will lead to similar field days throughout Minnesota.

Troops stationed in Afghanistan are scheduled to return home by Sept. 11, an occasion that will be met with friendship and support from communities throughout America.

In the Marshall area, it will coincide with activities of two Beyond the Yellow Ribbon chapters, one for Marshall and area communities and the other focused on Southwest Minnesota State University.

The two groups have a combined 17 years of experience reaching out to military families. Their mission includes veterans as well as current personnel who are serving tours of duty.

Coordinators said the nationwide need for formal veteran volunteer groups grew out of how a sizable percentage of families had to undergo time apart because of commitments to military service.

“There are a lot of things that come up, and it helps to have somewhere to turn, “ said SMSU Beyond the Yellow Ribbon and Veterans Services coordinator Justin Guggisberg. “Even just hauling boxes on a moving day can provide a huge help. We want to be there when we’re needed.”

He said having Yellow Ribbon chapters leads to a central way of channeling support to families. It also provides a starting point when individuals or organizations want to make contributions that help with the well-being of people affected by world, national and state events beyond their control.

“There’s a strong desire in our communities to lend support to veterans,” Guggisberg said.

“A lot of time people want to contribute but aren’t sure where to go. That’s where the Yellow Ribbon participants come in.”

He said the need for Yellow Ribbon volunteers will stay strong after troop withdrawals since the transition back to civilian life often has hurdles.

He added that National Guard service is a continuous commitment, one that could mean being called up on short notice because of something like a weather disaster. This spring Marshall based guard troops were deployed to help with security that might have been needed in response to the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

Many veterans become volunteers who help with Yellow Ribbon sponsored activities. They include some who’ve been helped in the past.

“There will always be families who have commitments to the military,” he said. “Military life is different from life in the civilian world. It helps if the support system for veterans and their families includes other veterans.”

Local Yellow Ribbon efforts included two events in April. The first was a gift-giving project done in conjunction with Marshall’s Heart to Heart program and Thrivent Financial.

The second event, a sports field day for children, drew about 40 young people to SMSU on a crisp Saturday morning. The event was organized by former Minnesota Viking Leo Lewis as a pilot site for future military family field days in many locations.

Denise Schneekloth, a coordinator of the Marshall area Beyond the Yellow Ribbon group, said each successful event requires a team effort between at least several sponsors and many volunteers.

“Everyone who’s active in Beyond the Yellow Ribbon has a set of networks that they can draw from,” Schneekloth said.

“When we hear about a need, we respond and reach out to people we know in the local area who might be able to help out.”

She said help for a military family can come in many different forms. Examples that have occurred at least occasionally include mowing, snow removal, help with a wet basement, finding educational materials, and help with college costs.

“There are many ways it can come into play,” she said. “For a military family, it can sometimes seem that everything breaks down when the soldier is gone. They appreciate any help that the community provides.”

In return for time and volunteer effort, she’s discovered that Yellow Ribbon involvement offers a chance to make a difference to a group of people whose lives involve service to America. She became involved when she heard there was a need for active volunteers, even though she’s never had an immediate family member serve in the military and hasn’t served herself.

“I thought about serving when I was younger, but never did,” Schneekloth said. “This is a way for me to do something that supports those who make the sacrifice. I’m part of something bigger than myself.”

Many of the volunteers at the sports field day were from different community organizations. Brad Runia, who helped for the first time at a Yellow Ribbon sponsored event, said he enjoyed the chance to contribute to a project for youth and families.

“It’s good to encourage kids to be active,” Runia said. “I’m impressed by what I learned about the Yellow Ribbon groups. They find ways to help military families.”

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