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For soldiers, welcome home is just the beginning

As the 1,000 or so soldiers with the 34th Infantry Division return from Iraq they will undergo more training. But unlike the training they received to go to war, this time they will learn how to adapt to the world they left a year ago.

Coming back from war isn't a simple process. For many it means learning to be part of their old lives again. It can be difficult for the soldier and it can be difficult for the people who love them.

"They come back to a different world and sometimes adjusting to a new normal can be difficult," said Sergeant Melanie Nelson.

That's why in 2006 the Minnesota National Guard established the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program. The program is set up to help soldiers reintegrate into civilian life after deployment.

Returning soldiers go through some of the reintegration process upon arrival in the country before they come home. During demobilization soldiers are registered for the Veterans Administration entitlement program, informed of their benefits, and trained on personal vehicle safety.

While it may seem weird that soldiers have to be reminded how to drive safely Nelson said it is a big concern. She said driving is a whole lot different in a war zone, where other cars are expected to keep their distance, and safety is a big concern upon return to the states.

After the homecoming soldiers are required to attend reintegration sessions at 30, 60 and 90 days. Nelson said in the early days of the reintegration program all soldiers went through the same sessions.

However she said it soon became clear each soldier's needs are different. Now various workshops are offered and each person can choose what best suits them.

"It's not cookie cutter," said Nelson.

Each training session has a specific focus. The 30- and 60-day events focus on reconnecting soldiers and their families. Workshops include various topics including communicating with family and friends, anger management, marriage, parenting, employment, finances and education.

Soldiers also learn more about the benefits they are entitled to and how to work with the system.

The 90-day reintegration seminar is for soldiers only. The event focuses on a thorough post deployment health re-assessment, inventory of all equipment and an administrative close-out of all active duty related personnel actions.

Spc. Jenaye Hoke of Farmington found the seminars on communication to be the most helpful. A member of the 34 Infantry Division Combat Aviation Division, Hoke returned from a year-long deployment in June.

In general she said the transition back to her civilian life went smoothly but she said it did take time to relearn to communicate with family and friends.

"I felt (the workshops) helped me understand a different perspective," Hoke said.

In addition Hoke, a full-time college student, said the training sessions helped her wade through the benefits she's entitled to including the G.I. Bill.

While some of the returning soldiers will view the trainings as a waste of time, Hoke suggested they go into it with an open mind.

"It will help," said Hoke.

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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