Saturday, March 6, 2010

Yellow Ribbon Event

We are all in civilian clothes. The shirts vary but the pants are jeans. Not all blue jeans, some of us are wearing black jeans, but worn, comfortable jeans are the uniform of the day for all of us who are not wearing uniforms. Our first presenters are five retired soldiers speaking in turn about the transition back to civilian life. They are all wearing jeans with black short-sleeve polo shirts.

The first presenter thanked us for serving and told us about the freedom we defended and should be enjoying now. The second guy told us to think about what we missed by being gone and those we missed. We had a short ceremony in which we dropped coins in a bowl to help preserve a memorial to deployed soldiers at the Valley Forge memorial.

The next presenter walked up to the stage with a Claymore sword. It was really shiny. He dropped the sword to get our attention then told us, "You are the weapon. You fly the planes. You go into battle. . . ."

Then we heard a long presentation from a guy who was homeless after his first enlistment in the 80s then went back in during the 90s. He talked about how bad his life got before he got injured in by an IED abd started the road back to being part of his family and society. We then watched a video about a Marine who lost both legs in an IED attack and how he was adapting to life back in the world.

We then watched a role playing exercise about what we missed on deployment and what our families back home took over. we were supposed to shout out what we missed. Sex and booze got most of the shouts. I was going to yell out "Libraries!" but decided not to alienate myself from the group before 10am. Then they asked what we were happy to leave behind. "KIDS!" got a big shout and a lot of knowing laughs. "BILLS!" was next.

The next presenter told us about being single and being deployed. Andrea Magee, one of my office mates at the end of the deployment, was sitting near me. She said, "Not another story" which got laughs from everyone around her. The presenter told us about a relationship that he got into after deployment and how it fell apart.

(Break for sentimental cliche watch: This guy began the presentation saying "Soldiers are the Army's greatest asset." He told us to "Come to terms" with our life. "Embrace all of who you are. . ." "I had to dream in a different way than before I left." "Invite your family to step into your journey." "Trust and embrace life or be out there by yourself."

Then we went on break.

The next presentation gave us all of our mental health options--local and national. Clearly, we are a big dysfunctional family.

The next presenter talked about medical and education benefits. This time he was in civilian clothes. Last time I heard him was in out processing in January. This is the master sergeant who, for the last month, has been my favorite example of how beliefs dictate how we see facts. In January he told us that there was no need for health care reform, then 10 minutes later told us that 42% of the Stryker Brigade soldiers (1,680 of 4,000) had no health benefits when they mobilized. His beliefs say nothing is wrong with health care (he, like most everyone else who sees no trouble with health care has guaranteed health care for life) and is responsible for making sure all of those uninsured soldiers get six months of free coverage after they get back from deployment.

After lunch, substance abuse. First we had a panel game with the presenters role playing as guests on a How Drunk are You? game show. Then they brought three volunteers up on stage and asked them about being angry. Then we saw professional video about a guy who was drunk, angry and ready to kill himself. Then we went to suicide.

The final presentation was a section of the HBO Series "Band of Brothers." The camera stopped on each member of Easy Company during a softball game in Germany and said what each man did after the war. [It was a great show and is having a sequel of sorts in a new HBO series called "The Pacific." It starts next Sunday night at 9pm.]

I suppose on of the things that Yellow Ribbon Events do is bring you together with soldiers you served with in a low-pressure setting. I talked at the breaks with Sgt. Brian Pauli and Spc. Andrea Magee, two of my best friends at Tallil. They both were doing great. Seeing them and making jokes about the Army and the presentations we were listening to was the best part of the day for me.