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A yellow-ribbon celebration Sunday at the Legion

In December, Farmington was recognized as Minnesota's first Yellow Ribbon City, a designation given to recognize the community's efforts to provide support to military men and women and their families through the newly-formed Warrior to Citizen program.

But why Farmington? What makes Farmington so special, especially when several other communities had Warrior to Citizen groups years before Farmington?

Dennis Donovan of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute says the answer is easy -- Farmington's Warrior to Citizen group is the first to create and execute a plan of action. And for that, he credits the organizers, Farmington residents Annette Kuyper and Scott Mills, as well as the rest of the committee.

The mother of an Army National Guard soldier, Kuyper has worked since May with Mills, an Army National Guard Command Sgt., to develop the Warrior to Citizen program. Their efforts were rewarded Dec. 5, 2008, when Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared Farmington the state's first Yellow Ribbon City. This weekend, the community is invited to help celebrate that honor.

Warrior to Citizen

The University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute has been overseeing the evolution of Warrior to Citizen programs. As the national organizer for public achievement from the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, he is well versed in the soldier reintegration programs that are starting around the state.

Warrior to Citizen started as a concept by a couple of Humphrey Policy Fellows. It gained strength when the National Guard expressed interest in partnering with the program.

The Army National Guard has a reintegration program for soldiers called Beyond the Yellow Ribbon. It offers a series of services to the military families -- from tying up financial loose ends before the spouse is deployed to support for the family members left at home. Warrior to Citizen is the community-driven program that reflects many of the same goals and objectives as Beyond the Yellow Ribbon.

The Army National Guard identified Farmington as a community that could benefit from a Warrior to Citizen program last spring, due to the large number of men and women from this community who were enlisted and being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kuyper jumped on the bandwagon. As a mother of a soldier, she had become involved in other National Guard programs. She and Mills brought the introductory Beyond the Yellow Ribbon process to Farmington, and before long had found a group of about 30 people willing to create the local Warrior to Citizen group.

"A lot of times, the National Guard will do (the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon introduction) in communities around the state. It's an awareness event, and people get drunk with enthusiasm," Donovan said. "But it's hard to get people to act on what they've heard."

But that was not the case in Farmington.

Over the past few months, the community's Warrior to Citizen group has developed a core group. They set goals, worked out a mission statement and planned activities for the community, and for Farmington's military families.

"What makes Farmington special is that there is a core group of people, people who have realized they can make a difference," Donovan said. "As an organizer, I am always looking for a demonstration site, somewhere that people can learn from. All the things that a community needs to be successful are in Farmington."

Party planning

The Farmington group will celebrate its designation as the first Yellow Ribbon City from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Farmington American Legion.

A short program is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., with a color guard, a welcome by American Legion commander Leonard Weisbrich and mayor Todd Larson, and remarks by Army National Guard MG Larry Shellito, Adjutant General, and Congressman John Kline. VFW commander Ron Ersfeld will also speak.

The event is open to military families, and to residents of the Farmington community. A copy of the new Yellow Ribbon City sign which will be placed at four different entrances to the city will be on display, and the Legion is providing appetizers, cake and punch for visitors. The event is in an open house format, so visitors may come and go as they desire.