Niagara Gazette — Col. Alphonso Sanders of the Ohio Army National Guard stepped off an airplane earlier this year and just about kissed the earth he walked on. He was entirely too glad to be back on American soil.
He'd spent the last 12 months living in Afghanistan during his deployment, the first of his more-than-20-year military career. He'd never been away from his wife, Katie, or his two teenage children for any length of time.
"This was my first deployment," Sanders said. "I'd been in the military for so long. Because we had a close knit family for so long, and to then finally have to go ... it set up an emotional trauma in itself."
Enter the United States Army's Yellow Ribbon program, a congressionally mandated training session covering all aspects of a soldier's deployment. From before the soldier leaves their home life to the months after they return, Yellow Ribbon is working to ensure as smooth of a transition as possible.
Started in 2008, the regional program came to the Conference Center Niagara Falls this weekend to provide families like the Sanders' an opportunity to learn about adjusting to life back home. There are classes on resume writing and driver safety, seminars dedicated to accessing all available Veterans Administration benefits and workshops on dealing with brain injuries and all aspects of psychological health.
Set up in six phases, it's designed to train the soldiers and their family members in the art of being wholly healthy, according to Staff Sgt. Jeff Campbell, one of the volunteer organizers of the regional event.
"This program is training them in the physical aspects, the emotional aspects and the mental aspects of both being deployed and returning home," Campbell said. "They shouldn't have to worry about what's going on back home when they're deployed."