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Fort Leonard Wood-based Guardsmen honored after deployment to Iraq
Fort Leonard Wood-based Guardsmen honored after deployment to Iraq

Brig. Gen. Larry Kay, assistant adjutant general, shakes hands with Capt. Nicholas Pianalto of Waynesville, commander of Company C, 1st Battalion, 106th Assault Helicopter Battalion, during a Freedom Salute at Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach.
OSAGE BEACH, Mo. (Oct. 14, 2009) — Returning from a year-long deployment to civilian life can sometimes be daunting for Missouri National Guardsmen.

To help soldiers with that transition, to recognize them, their families and employers for their sacrifices, and to make sure they are aware of all the benefits available to them, the Guard hosts Yellow Ribbon and Freedom Salute programs.

On Saturday, about 100 citizen-soldiers from Fort Leonard Wood-based Company C, 1st Battalion, 106th Assault Helicopter Battalion, and its detachments, along with Springfield-based Detachment 3, 1st Battalion, 185th Theater Aviation Company, and their family members were given this honor at Tan-Tar-A Resort.

“The Freedom Salute is extremely important because it’s the final event that marks the completion of our postmobilization,” said Capt. Nicholas Pianalto, Company C commander. “It’s a chance for everybody to get together and have the families, VIPs and distinguished guests show up and celebrate the many accomplishments that have taken place over the past 15 months.”

The 1-106th and its detachments are a UH-60 Black Hawk unit that served in southeast Iraq, while the 1-185th is a fixed wing, C-23 Sherpa unit, that served in Balad, Iraq.

The Freedom Salute event recognized individual soldiers returning from their first or second deployment. Unmarried Guardsmen returning from their first deployment were presented with a flag and commemorative coins to give to their civilian employers. The children of soldiers returning from their first deployment received a “Future Soldier’s Kit” containing games and toys. For their second deployment, soldiers received rings. Spouses of deployed soldiers also received a lapel pin.

As a token of appreciation for their sacrifices, servicemen and women returning from deployment are presented with flags, pins, certificates and other mementos. They also receive commemorative coins to present to their civilian employers, mantel clocks for their spouses, and a “Future Soldier Footlocker Kit” with toys and games for their children.

Special awards were also handed out.

For his third deployment, Staff Sgt. Terry Hull, of the 1-106th, was presented a coin by Brig. Gen. Larry Kay, assistant adjutant general.

Also being honored were those who provided a center of influence for each unit while it was deployed with one of two types of honors. Each unit’s distinguished center of influence, the more prestigious award, received a 17-inch Minuteman statue, while the person deemed the unit’s outstanding center of influence was awarded a large mosaic print of an American flag.

For Company C and its detachments, Rhonda Darnell of Roby, the Family Readiness Group leader for Company C, 1-106th, was recognized as the unit’s distinguished center of influence, and Jane Hull, Staff Sgt. Terry Hull’s wife, was honored as the outstanding center of influence.

For the 1-185th, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Shannon Kelsey took the honor of distinguished center of influence, while Don Jester, Mount Vernon Boy Scout Troop 106 leader, was named the unit’s outstanding center of influence.

The Yellow Ribbon events are also intended to provide Missouri National Guardsmen and their Families access to reintegration training and valuable resources for them to return to civilian life.

“The Yellow Ribbon program has been exceptional,” said Pianalto, who lives in Waynesville. “They have done an extremely good job providing information for soldiers and for families.”

“We’ve heard most of the information now at least twice, if not three times, so soldiers should all be aware of what’s available to assist them,” Pianalto said.

Although soldiers have received most of the information prior to the event, Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Masters, of the 1-106th, said it doesn’t hurt to hear it again, just because it maybe didn’t apply to you then, but does now.

“The Yellow Ribbon program helps identify issues that when you first come back, may not be there, but then arise later on,” said Master, who lives in St. Robert. “By having it multiple times, it reinforces the benefits that are out there.”

Briefings were held throughout the event with emphasis on financial planning and readiness, legal issues, Veterans Affairs programs, Tricare military insurance, chaplain support, marriage and family enhancement programs, Army benefits, and employer support. Soldiers can receive information on everything from dealing with stress to issues with their civilian employers.

“It’s nice that they are putting out all of the programs that are available to everybody,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Fierce of the 1-106th. “Whenever they put out that information, if they need that assistance, they can utilize it. If a person doesn’t know about it, how can they utilize it?”

Fierce, who lives in Dixon, has had two deployments with the Guard. After his first, there was no Yellow Ribbon event.

“We just had a mobilization station and they would go over real quick what all the programs were,” Fierce said. “I think this is why they developed this. It’s more in depth and they take a little more time to discuss it. I think it’s a good thing.”

Sgt. Daniel Niere, of the 1-185th, called the Yellow Ribbon event a wonderful one-stop shop for benefits.

“It brings all the resources together and it’s nice they make it on one of your drills,” he said. “You can bring your family members and I think that’s good. Not everything is useful for everybody, but there are always two or three areas that are.”

One of those areas for Niere was learning how he could transfer his education benefits from the GI Bill to his spouse or children.

“It’s important to a lot of guys because they maybe have already gone through school and gotten all they want out of it,” Niere, who lives in De Soto. “Maybe as a reward to their spouse, who stayed back and took care of the family back home, they can pass on their benefits and say, ‘Let me send you to school.’”

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Henderson, of the 1-106th, said it is a good event because he believes most soldiers know about the benefit programs, but they don’t know how to access them. The Yellow Ribbon program remedies that.

“I think a lot of the young Soldiers, especially, don’t know anything about and of the ins and outs,” he said. “It helps them get a grip. A lot of times you know something is there, but you don’t know that anybody on the other end that is even excited about it.

“It gives my family a chance to know what’s out there for help, also.”

Masters agreed.

“Based on a lot of these programs being government ran, the bureaucracy is pretty intense,” he said. “Having the Yellow Ribbon, where they give you specific contacts to get a hold of, they can help you to try to wade through that bureaucracy.”

Henderson, who lives in Steelville, said he was very impressed with the presentation from Pat Rowe Kerr, the senior advisor for Veterans Outreach for the Missouri Veterans Commission.

“She is pretty excited about trying to help people,” Henderson said. “She wants to make sure that we get our paperwork in and they’ve offered to help us do our paperwork to make sure everything is copasetic,” he said. “She wants to make sure that if you need medical help in the future that you’re going to get it.

“She does her job well and I really appreciate her interest in me. If she’s doing that with me, I’m sure she’s doing that with other people, too.”

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