INA, Ill. – Rend Lake College opened its doors this weekend to area soldiers in the Yellow Ribbon Program that helps members of the Armed Forces cope with returning to their lives after a year or more of fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan.
According to 2nd Lt. Justin Anweiler, state coordinator for Yellow Ribbon, 90 local soldiers and their family members were served Saturday with classes on finance management, military benefits and counseling services on marriage skills, family, and drug and alcohol abuse. These soldiers, from Southern Illinois Army National Guard units in Mt. Vernon, West Frankfort and Salem, have returned within the past 30 to 60 days from year-long mobilizations. Anweiler said Yellow Ribbon is working with the Illinois Community College Board in using facilities at 33 community colleges across the state to serve at least 3,000 soldiers this year. That is quite an increase from its start in 2007 when the program served 400 soldiers from local church basements in towns throughout Illinois.
RLC Dean of Student Services Lisa Price organized the event on the college’s end.
“Lisa Price has been wonderful,” Anweiler said. “She has really done a lot for the soldiers and families. Rend Lake College has been absolutely phenomenal. We couldn’t have asked for a better venue and we are happy to take advantage of their hospitality. The reason we wanted to use community colleges is simple. They are a part of the community effort to reach out to these soldiers. Illinois communities sent these soldiers to war and it takes Illinois communities to welcome them back.”
Yellow Ribbon harnesses help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veteran Services, local churches and more to help soldiers reintegrate, according to Col. Michael Haerr, who serves as Deputy Commander of the 33rd Brigade Combat Team.
“We want them to understand there is a lot of help out there,” Haerr said. “We are trusting the VA to do well what they are paid to do, just as they trust us to do well protecting the country.”
At one time, Haerr was on the receiving end of Yellow Ribbon. He said the finance management portion then is a big reason both of his daughters are getting a college education today.
The children of soldiers returning from duty are not forgotten in Yellow Ribbon. The program has teamed with the Chicago School of Psychology to help kids cope with deployment, Anweiler said. The program helps kids identify “Who am I? Who is my family? And how do I feel?” he said.
“I had a soldier come up to me today and say, ‘Wow, I’ve learned so much and the day isn’t even over yet.’ That’s wonderful. Especially when it’s soldiers opening up because they aren’t usually the kind of people who do.”