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Morris begins to move Beyond the Yellow Ribbon

Staff Sergeant Doug Anderson, Training NCO for the 175th Forward Support unit stationed at the Morris Armory, explains the meaning of the monument in front of the Armory to first graders from Morris Elementary School who visited for a tour on Monday. The National Guard unit that trains at the armory will be hosting a community open house on Saturday, Nov. 19 from 2 to 4 p.m. Community members are invited to attend. At 4 p.m, the steering committee for the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program will meet to gat...

MORRIS - The City of Morris took the first step towards being recognized as a Yellow Ribbon Community as part of the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program last month when local leaders met to learn about the program and begin drafting a plan for identifying and coordinating services for veterans in the community.

The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program is designed to create awareness of the needs of service members - from any branch of the military - and their families and connect them with resources in the community.

City Manager Blaine Hill, a service member in the Army Reserves for almost 34 years, will serve as the chair of the committee. At the group's first meeting in October, Hill said he believes the work of the committee will not be about fundraising, but rather a process of finding out what the community is already doing and helping fill any gaps in services.

"There are already organizations doing the things that need to be done," said Hill. "This is going to be an organization that is going to tie things together and wrap it up in one package ... and find out what kinds of things we need to do that maybe we're not doing now."

Minnesota doesn't have an active military bases, which means servicemembers are spread out across the state. After service members began returning home after the many recent deployments, the federal government provided money to states to help with the process, said SFC Chris Haars, Yellow Ribbon Outreach Coordinator for the Minnesota Army National Guard.

Minnesota developed a series of reintegration programs - service members return to base once a month during their first three months home for briefings from veteran service officers and other administrators to learn about what services are available.

"That worked to a point, but we've all been around long enough to know that issues don't occur at 30, 60 and 90 days," said Haars. "Now they've added a 120 month briefing, but it's still not quite working."

The Yellow Ribbon Community Recognition Program is meant to localize support for service members by gathering people in the community who know how to utilize resources for veterans and develop support networks that are already in place.

Although the program was started by the Minnesota Army National Guard, the intent is to include all service members from all branches of the military, Haars explained.

The first step on the path to being recognized by the State of Minnesota as a Yellow Ribbon Community is to gather a steering committee made up of leaders and decision makers in key areas - city leadership, education, local business, faith-based organizations, civic organizations, medical providers and more - that will develop an action plan that demonstrates commitment to service members and military families.

A steering committee for the project met in October to learn about the program and begin forming an action plan. The committee will next meet at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14 as part of a community open house at the Armory in Morris. The community will be invited to the program and have a chance to comment on the action plan.

"I know that we're doing a lot of the stuff that we should be doing, but there's more that we can do and I think we'll find it out as part of this process," said Hill.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for and biggest benefit of the group will be a process of trying to identify servicemembers and families that need help of some kind that are not currently receiving it.

"One right that a veteran has is the right to tell nobody he or she is one. There is no magical list of where all veterans are," said Stevens County Veterans Service Officer Hugh Reimers. "The biggest thing the Yellow Ribbon Community will do is help recognize who are veterans are, especially those veterans who might need some help."