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'Yellow Ribbon' group will help military families

One thing that distinguishes the United States' two current wars from past conflicts is their reliance on part-time National Guard soldiers to make up a large portion of the fighting force.

Whereas active duty soldiers' families can rely on base services for help, the families of deployed National Guard troops sometimes have no place to turn.

A local grass-roots program, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Southeast Minnesota, will try to meet those families' needs by matching them up with businesses or volunteers.

"The more we talk to military families, the more we hear they would appreciate something like that," said Kenn Roehl, a retired Rochester man who is chairman of the program.

Families need help with "anything from shoveling snow to fixing the car to child care to counseling services," Roehl said.


The group is seeking certification of its program from the Minnesota National Guard and Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

On Wednesday, the Rochester City Council lent its support, unanimously approving a resolution of support to have Rochester named a state "Yellow City."

Olmsted County Commissioners will be asked to make a similar, county-wide, resolution next week.

The southeastern Minnesota group formed as a result of a "Coffee and Conversation" event two years ago, where the topic had to do with veterans' services.

Former state Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, who was involved in that discussion and went on to help form the Yellow Ribbon group, said she "found myself just so moved" by the described needs of soldiers' families.

"These military families are in our midst," she said.

Roehl, an active-duty member of the U.S. Army for 23 years, said that when he was sent abroad, "that whole post was helping my family."

In a four- to six-county area around Rochester, an estimated 600 families, with 2,000 children, fit the description of families with needs, Roehl said.


The Yellow Ribbon group has held a few social events for National Guard families, but plans to bulk up its program over the next several months.

The group added two partners — the nonprofit agency Family Service Rochester and Rochester Community and Technical College, whose students must collect credits for community service as part of their educational requirement.

The program is developing a Web site — www.BeyondTheYellowRibbonSEMN.com — that will be used to match donors to recipients. The site is not active, but will be launched sometime next month, Roehl said.

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