BREWER, Maine — The 101st Civil Engineering Squadron of the Maine Air National Guard is preparing for a six-month deployment to Baghdad, the first time the unit has deployed together and the first time its deployment has been involuntary. The unit is scheduled to leave in July for Iraq.
On Saturday, about 50 of the unit’s 93 members gathered at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer, many with family members and other loved ones, for a daylong “Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program” — the first such event in Maine since federal regulations mandated more comprehensive deployment support for National Guard and military reserve members and their families.
The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program stipulates that comprehensive support programs and services shall be provided before, during and after deployment in order to minimize any negative impact on service members and their families.
According to Lt. Col. David Vashon, who will assume command of the 101st in Baghdad, smaller groups and individuals within the squadron have deployed “almost continuously” to Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001. But, he said, the federal Department of Defense began in January to “pick up the tempo” of the war on terror.
Among other changes, the Air Guard’s tradition of voluntary deployment has come to an end. Now, and for the foreseeable future, Vashon said, Guard members and their families can plan on predictable deployments of about six months out of every three years, or a 1:5 ratio of deployed to nondeployed time.
“There is a real shortage of civil engineers and officers,” Vashon said, so the skills of the 101st Engineering Battalion are in high demand. During the unit’s coming deployment at the Sather Air Base at Baghdad International Airport, the 101st likely will rebuild runways and construct a new hospital, he said.
About 40 firefighters assigned to the 101st will not deploy with the rest of the squadron, but may deploy at a later date, Vashon said.
Saturday’s event included a presentation by psychologist Gretchen Breylier Hegeman of the Maine National Guard on using the “bounce-back effect” for dealing with stress and trauma. Hegeman told the airmen and their families that exposure to the stress and trauma of wartime can lead to personal growth as opposed to the long-term dysfunction of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In order for that to happen, she said, service members must allow sufficient time and plan activities that promote relaxation and stress relief. Like lifting weights on alternate days to allow stressed muscles to recover from a workout, she said, the human psyche can best be strengthened by allowing adequate time for recovery.
Other presentations focused on managing family finances during the deployment of a loved one, maintaining personal health, attending to children’s needs and taking care of legal concerns such as wills and power of attorney documents. Also on the schedule were updates on the benefits of the GI Bill and family support services provided by the Red Cross and other organizations.
“So many young families are affected when someone deploys,” Vashon said, and those left behind may not be familiar with paying bills or coping with problems such as a broken furnace. The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program seeks to provide additional support to families so service members can focus on their missions and on caring for themselves, he said.