Davis helps soldiers homeWith a smile on his face and a round of applause, Bob Davis has helped welcome home hundreds of Minnesota soldiers. Not all have been happy to the Goodhue County veterans service officer and his team, but the soldiers - most of whom have been deployed before - know the routine.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
With a smile on his face and a round of applause, Bob Davis has helped welcome home hundreds of Minnesota soldiers.
Not all have been happy to the Goodhue County veterans service officer and his team, but the soldiers - most of whom have been deployed before - know the routine.
Davis said Minnesota troops have embraced the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program - even though it forces them to answer questions, talk about their concerns and fill out paperwork when they return home - since it was first used more than four years ago with the 434th Chemical Co.
That unit has detachments in Red Wing, Northfield and Roseville.
"We're really forcing the issue on the troops," Davis said. "The last thing they want to see on their way out is something standing in their way. But that's what we need to do. They know we're the last stop."
Davis will fly to Fort Lewis, Wash., on Sunday with a 15- to 20-person team of county veterans service officers and state employees to help demobilize more than 1,300 troops returning home with the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard, which includes several Goodhue County residents.
The team will make sure the returning soldiers are enrolled in the VA medical system and then sit down with each soldier to assess their physical and mental health.
Davis - chairman of the reintegration committee for the Minnesota Association of County Veterans Service Officers - makes sure the information is passed on to each soldier's local veterans service officer, who becomes a main resource and contact point once they return home.
Started in 2005, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon provides services, training and resources throughout the deployment cycle to service members and their families.
Davis played an integral role in getting the program off the ground in Minnesota.
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon has since gained national attention for its success. It is now instrumental in reaching out to Minnesota troops and Davis said federal law requires each state to provide similar services to soldiers returning from war.
"This is a great program," said Commissioner Ron Allen, a retired Army colonel who was in Iraq a few years ago. "I'm glad Bob Davis is doing this."
@Sub Heads:The drill
@Normal1: Services are provided to soldiers through Beyond the Yellow Ribbon the moment they receive word they will be deployed.
Family preparation academies help soldiers and their loved ones get ready for deployment and county veterans service officers work with children and spouses while the soldier is gone.
"You kind of adopt them," Davis said. "You take them and you take their families on. And we need the families involved. They're our eyes and ears."
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon does not end there.
Soldiers returning from war head to a demobilization site, where they must meet with volunteers who make sure they get proper insurance and medical help and assess other issues.
Getting necessary information - especially from soldiers - is not always easy, though Davis said the process has evolved over the past five years. He and other volunteers who have participated in reintegration and demobilization programs before have worked to gain soldiers' trust.
"We meet the troops at the door and we welcome them back with a line of applause," said Davis, a Cannon Falls Marine Corps veteran. "This gets them right away because they know we're from Minnesota, they know we know what we're talking about. They open up to us."
Davis and other county veterans service officers then follow up with soldiers and their families at their 30- and 60-day drills. Davis continues to encourage the men and women to keep in touch.
The job is tiring but worth the effort, Davis said.
"You don't have a better job than this," said Davis, who will return to Minnesota on Jan 26. "If I didn't do it I know our troops would be missed and I couldn't deal with that."