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Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program growing in importance for military families

Brigadier General Sandra Best, chief of staff of the Minnesota Air National Guard, was the keynote speaker at Farmington’s Patriotic Day celebration on Thursday, Nov. 10. (Kim Ukura | Independent Town Pages)

Programs like Beyond the Yellow Ribbon — which got it's start in Farmington — have become increasingly important as women expand their role in the military, Brigadier General Sandra Best said in her Patriotic Day keynote Thursday, Nov. 10.

"Because women's role in the military has increased, it is increasingly common for husbands and wives to be serving at the same time, which can increase stressors on these families," said Best, who currently serves as chief of staff for the Minnesota Air National Guard. "That is why we are so fortunate that Minnesota leads the nation with our Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program."

The program is familiar in the area — Farmington's branch of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon helped make the city the first Yellow Ribbon city, proclaimed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2008.

"The processes formed during Farmington's work to become a Yellow Ribbon City led to the establishment of a national Yellow Ribbon program," said Best. "The strong Farmington community network set the bar in Minnesota and across the nation."

More than 1,400 people packed the Farmington High School cafeteria and recital hall for the free community dinner and Patriotic Day program, which focused on women in the military.

"This year's theme of females in the military promotes the essential priorities of diversity and inclusion necessary in the military and society at large," said Best.

Throughout the different branches of the armed services, women are taking a more active role in all areas of service. In the Minnesota Army and Air National Guard, approximately 2,400 female soldiers serve in an overall force of about 13,200 soldiers.

However, Best said there is still more work to be done as the military works towards matching current demographic trends in the United States.

In 2015, the Air National Guard promoted its first African American general officer, Brigadier General David Hamlar. In 2016, Best was the first female officer promoted to that rank. It was followed shortly by the promotion of Brigadier General Johanna Clyborne, Assistant Adjutant General-Army of the Minnesota Army National Guard.

"We look forward to the day when promotion of minorities and women to the top ranks are commonplace," said Best.

Best also focused on some personal stories of what Veterans Day means for her and her family. For veterans like Best's grandfather-in-law, a dairy farmer from central Wisconsin, going to war is an experience that can have long-ranging effects.

"They put their lives and careers on hold and report for duty, regardless of hardship," said Best. "He deployed to France and experienced the horror of warfare in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, in which nearly 1.2 million American soldiers fought."

That battle continued until Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, after which he was discharged and returned to farming in Wisconsin.

"But for him, Armistice Day — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — was the day he held sacred," said Best. "It was the one and only day of the year he would milk cows in the morning, then quietly reflect and remember until it was time to milk cows in the evening."

Best also encouraged audience members to recognize sacrifices that families of veterans often need to make while a loved one is deployed.

In 2008 and 2009, Best was deployed to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Her daughters, then in middle school and high school, were "facing teenager challenges that most families face."

"The bottom line was they needed be, but they also knew, accepted, and actually shouldered a responsibility of service themselves by allowing me the freedom to step forward and deploy with peace of mind," said Best.

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