Helping our military


POSTED: Wednesday, September 23, 2009

National Guard and Reservists serve side by side with active duty troops in Iraq and Afghanistan but have been denied access to transition programs upon their return. That has changed with the Pentagon's launching last year of the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, which greeted Hawaii's returning citizen soldiers on Sunday, a major step toward filling a need.

An open house at the Hawaii Convention Center began a schedule intended to help more than 2,300 National Guard members and Reservists and their families, conducted 30, 60 and 90 days following deployment home. The convention center included 23 programs on topics such as veterans affairs, military benefits and transition assistance, college opportunities and a job fair.

The reintegration effort sponsored by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., is patterned after a Minnesota program and received bipartisan support when enacted by Congress last year. Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie was among the numerous cosponsors.

The program was implemented this spring as the suicide rate of soldiers rose to unprecedented levels. A U.S. Defense Department study found that 38 percent of active-duty soldiers report psychological symptoms within three to four months of coming home. Nearly half of the National Guard report such symptoms.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, suicides and “;all sorts of things have told us that it's critical to make sure that our troops and their families are readjusting properly,”; said Thomas F. Hall, assistant defense secretary for reserve affairs, as the program began in March.

Upon returning home, the Guard members and Reservists have as long as 90 days to check in with their units. During that period, many may have felt isolated in civilian life, offered little more than group counseling sessions.

Many of the soldiers returning to Hawaii have lost their civilian jobs because of the economic downturn during their deployment, said Col. Arnold Iaea.

“;A lot of them worked for Aloha Airlines and (other) companies that now don't exist,”; he noted.

“;It's all about giving them information so they know what direction they want to take,”; said Hamona Dowell, who helped at the Operating Engineers Hawaii Joint Apprenticeship booth at the convention center. “;There's been a lot of interest and a lot of opportunities.”;