Fort Leonard Wood’s senior leaders celebrated the birthday of the Army Community Service program Friday morning with a formal open house for the new location of the Yellow Ribbon Room.
Intended to help military families maintain contact with deployed soldiers, the Yellow Ribbon Room includes videoconference facilities, computers with webcams, and meeting space for Army family readiness groups that serve individual Army companies or other units. The facility began about three years ago in temporary quarters in Clarke Library where it stayed for about 11 months, moved to a different location in 2007, and in June of this year moved to the Army Community Service headquarters facility located in Building 486, commonly known as the old arts and crafts center and located next to the commissary.
The opening of the Yellow Ribbon Room coincided with a decision to have the facility serve not just a single unit that was deployed at the time but rather be a post-wide facility helping families of deployed soldiers.
The Yellow Ribbon Room has been extremely popular, said Missy Gray, a family readiness support assistant and Yellow Ribbon Room administrator.
“We’re talking over a thousand people using it; probably we had 100 to 150 just this week alone,” Gray said.
The video teleconference centers — commonly abbreviated as VTCs — are among the most popular facilities at the Yellow Ribbon Room. Family members gather in the Yellow Ribbon Room and speak with their deployed soldier in Iraq, Afghanistan or another location.
“The personalization of seeing and speaking to the soldier live seems to just brighten up the soldiers’ face,” Gray said. “There are events like pregnancies, births, children growing; even if they get to do VTCs two or three times when deployed, it’s better than a picture.”
Participants in the Yellow Ribbon Room included Jessica Barnett of Rolla, who is engaged to Spec. Jonathan Culwell, currently deployed to Iraq with the 5th Engineer Battalion. The family readiness group of Culwell’s 55th Engineer Company arranged for family members to use the videoconference system this week in the Yellow Ribbon Room.
Barnett, who is an employee in the advertising department of the Waynesville Daily Guide’s sister newspaper, the Rolla Daily News, was on active duty until last year with the Army’s 84th Chemical Battalion and met her fiancé while both were in the military. While Barnett knows better than some wives and fiancés what soldiers face in the military, she said it’s still very helpful to be able to see her fiancé face-to-face.
“I couldn’t sleep the night before; I was like a kid in the candy store, so excited,” Barnett said. “It definitely keeps the morale high, it’s a lot easier to deal with the deployment. Seeing them is great; hearing them on the phone is OK, but this a whole different level.”
Being able to see the face of a deployed soldier on television and hear the soldier speaking on a microphone is much better than just sending pictures or getting phone calls, she said.
“You get the phone calls but you don’t know for sure how they’re doing. There are a lot of things they won’t tell you and I have to understand that,” Barnett said.
Especially for people who don’t live on Fort Leonard Wood or in the communities immediately surrounding the post such as Waynesville and St. Robert, the Army’s Family Readiness Group program is essential, Barnett said. Generally headed by a military wife but sometimes by another family member, family readiness groups consist of spouses and other family members of deployed servicemembers and provide a support network for those remaining in the United States.
“We send lots of care packages, magazines, snacks, stuff they just can’t easily get over there, and we send lot of photos and scrapbooks,” Barnett said.
Some of the FRGs meet in conference rooms at the Yellow Ribbon Room and Barnett knew about the videoconference facility, but it wasn’t available during her fiance’s last deployment.
“When I got a call from a member of the FRG telling me this event was taking place, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting,” Barnett said. “It’s the best thing that has come to Fort Leonard Wood for a long time, especially for spouses.”