by Bill Tschohl
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune
On Dec. 6, I had the privilege of attending the Farmington Beyond the Yellow Ribbon gala as the 30-member committee and volunteers celebrated five years of assisting service members and their families as well as serving as the model for hundreds of cities to follow.
Farmington was the first Beyond the Yellow Ribbon community in Minnesota and the nation and after five years it was time to celebrate.
The five-year anniversary celebration was held at the Farmington High School auditorium with over 150 attending.
Speakers included Mayor Todd Larson who greeted everyone and talked about what can be done to help our active and veteran service men and women and how Farmington Beyond the Yellow Ribbon under the direction of Annette Kuyper has served as the nationwide model.
Retired Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito talked about the history of the program and the benefits to our service people.
Gov. Mark Dayton stressed the importance of the program to our military veterans and active duty servicemen and women and their families. He said that the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program is making a big difference in Minnesota.
Minnesota National Guard Adj. Gen. Richard Nash stated Farmington is the “gold standard.” It has served as the model for 254 Yellow Ribbon networks in Minnesota including 199 cities, 33 companies and 32 counties. On Dec. 1, the largest city in Minnesota, Minneapolis, received its official Governor’s Yellow Ribbon Communities Proclamation A short video was shown highlighting the accomplishments over the past five years of the Farmington program.
Five years ago, the Minnesota National Guard was looking for a way to help the many returning service members’ reintroduction to civilian life and support their families. A group of citizens in Farmington worked with the National Guard to create a Yellow Ribbon Network. Gov. Tim Pawlenty proclaimed Farmington to be the first Beyond the Yellow Ribbon city in 2008. The Farmington group has about 30 committee members and 300 volunteers. Kuyper, whose son was deployed overseas in 2008, was looking for a way to help and has led the group from the beginning. The group holds a monthly meeting.
The Farmington group is very interested and enthusiastic about doing the best for our service members. Kuyper has led the efforts to create 254 Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Networks in Minnesota. She is director of military outreach for the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs. Kuyper said the outward showing of support by Beyond the Yellow Ribbon communities eases the burden for military families, eases the transition from warrior to citizen and builds more compassionate communities. Kuyper thanked the community of Farmington and the other Beyond the Yellow Ribbon groups for caring for military families. It means a lot to military families to know their community stands ready to help.
Kuyper was instrumental in getting Rosemount and Apple Valley Beyond the Yellow Ribbon groups organized. Both of these groups led by Bruce Folken, president in Apple Valley, and Karl Xavier III, president in Rosemount, have assisted many military men and women and their families. I am proud to say that Farmington, Rosemount and Apple Valley receive strong support from their respective mayors, city staff and their communities. Representatives from Apple Valley and Rosemount were among those attending the celebration.
We all wish Kuyper continued success as she leads us forward with her example. There are 350,000 veterans in our state. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan closing down, we will see many more service men and women returning and needing our support and encouragement.
We all share Dayton’s belief that the 254 Beyond the Yellow Ribbon networks through the efforts of Kuyper and her supporters is a remarkable achievement. In the last five years the program has saved lives, marriages and careers. There is nothing else like it.
Please extend congratulations to Kuyper and the members of the Farmington Beyond the Yellow Ribbon group for their many accomplishments and contributions to the betterment of the lives and futures of our servicemen and women. Keep in mind that there is always need for more volunteers. If you are a service member or veteran and would like some help, please contact one of these groups. They are there to serve you. For additional information, contact Kuyper at 651-282-4002 or email Annette.B.Kuyper@us.army.mil.
Bill Tschohl is a member of the Apple Valley Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Network. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.