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Yellow Ribbon helps re-integrate Hawaii Reservists, families after deployment

624th Regional Support Group Reservists, their families, headquarters staff and guest briefers gather together at a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. The event was for 624th Civil Engineer Squadron Reservists, who recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and their family members, as a part of their re-integration process back home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

624th Regional Support Group Reservists, their families, headquarters staff and guest briefers gather together at a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. The event was for 624th Civil Engineer Squadron Reservists, who recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and their family members, as a part of their re-integration process back home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

Senior Master Sgt. Rolando Belong and his wife Arsenia listen to various briefers inform them of their various rights and responsibilities at a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. Sergeant Belong was one of many 624th Civil Engineer Squadron Reservists who recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Aresenia Belong was one of two key spouses who helped hold down the home front for the families. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

Senior Master Sgt. Rolando Belong and his wife Arsenia listen to various briefers inform them of their various rights and responsibilities at a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. Sergeant Belong was one of many 624th Civil Engineer Squadron Reservists who recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Aresenia Belong was one of two key spouses who helped hold down the home front for the families. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

Lt. Col. David Lopina, Judge Advocate General, Hawaii National Guard, speaks about legal matters at a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. Colonel Lopina was one of many briefers who explained various rights and responsibilities for 624th Civil Engineer Squadron members who recently returned home from deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

Lt. Col. David Lopina, Judge Advocate General, Hawaii National Guard, speaks about legal matters at a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. Colonel Lopina was one of many briefers who explained various rights and responsibilities for 624th Civil Engineer Squadron members who recently returned home from deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

Guest speakers retired-Master Sgt. Keoni Littlejohn and his wife Erin discuss their own challenges as a couple, when a military member deploys, at a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. The event was for 624th Civil Engineer Squadron Reservists, who recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and their family members as a part of their re-integration process back home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

Guest speakers retired-Master Sgt. Keoni Littlejohn and his wife Erin discuss their own challenges as a couple, when a military member deploys, at a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. The event was for 624th Civil Engineer Squadron Reservists, who recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and their family members as a part of their re-integration process back home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

Master Sgt. Janet Hudson thanks workers who came out to welcome 624th Civil Engineer Squadron members who had recently returned home from Afghanistan at a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. Sergeant Hudson was the coordinator of the event held for 624th Civil Engineer Squadron Reservists and their family members as a part of their re-integration process back home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

Master Sgt. Janet Hudson thanks workers who came out to welcome 624th Civil Engineer Squadron members who had recently returned home from Afghanistan at a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. Sergeant Hudson was the coordinator of the event held for 624th Civil Engineer Squadron Reservists and their family members as a part of their re-integration process back home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

Rock beats Scissors as Staff Sgt. Steve Dumlao and Lee Miyamoto, wife of Master Sgt. Roy Miyamoto, face off in a social exercise held during a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. The event was for 624th Civil Engineer Squadron Reservists, who recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and their family members as a part of their re-integration process back home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

Rock beats Scissors as Staff Sgt. Steve Dumlao and Lee Miyamoto, wife of Master Sgt. Roy Miyamoto, face off in a social exercise held during a Yellow Ribbon event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June. The event was for 624th Civil Engineer Squadron Reservists, who recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and their family members as a part of their re-integration process back home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR HICKAM, Hawaii -- While members of the 624th Civil Engineer Squadron deployed to Afghanistan this past year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom their loved ones were also on a journey of their own learning how to live without them.

Along this journey, the Air Force's Yellow Ribbon Program was there at every milestone from the first notification of mobilization until their arrival home and in the months that follow.

For Master Sgt. Kerwin Canionero, the greatest challenge during the deployment was being away from his family.

"Leaving behind my beautiful wife and two baby girls, Kalena who just turned two-years-old at the time and Kamalei who was only seven-months-old, when I left was the most difficult thing I had to face," he said.

His wife Vivian faced demands of her own.

"Having to resign from my job, temporarily moving back to my parent's home and raising our children alone without their father," she said. "As a single parent, I had to learn to find ways to take our then two-year-old and infant child everywhere I went."

The Canioneros' story is but one of countless reasons why the YRP was initiated into the 624th Regional Support Group by its Airman and Family Readiness Center. The program offers information and support to military spouses during a deployment. It also helps educate members and families about resources available to assist them and connecting members to service providers before, during and after deployments.

"What I found most helpful about the Yellow Ribbon program was the tons of information about the huge support that members receive or could receive," said Master Sgt. Kerwin Canionero. "Ranging from education benefits, health benefits, to even knowing your legal rights as an activated reserve service member, it gives me piece of mind to know that organizations such as the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and the Veteran's Affairs office are ready, willing and able to assist the members in any way they can."

As part of the re-integrating process, the deployers and their loved ones gathered together at a 60-day event post-deployment event held at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui, in June.

"I chose an off- island location because I wanted to give the families an opportunity to get away from their daily stressors and focus on reconnecting with their loved ones," said Master Sgt. Janet Hudson, 624th RSG YRP coordinator.

The experience was great, said Sergeant Canionero. "It gave us the opportunity to really reconnect with the family and release some highly built up pressure."

"It was our first family trip since we had kids," said Vivian "The kids had a lot of fun."

The first day was filled with briefings and interactive exercises with the adults while the kids were off on their own supervised play. Group counseling workshops were held on the second day.

"The breakout sessions were great, especially with the chaplain and the Joint Family Support Assistance Program representative," said Sergeant Canionero.

Vivian agrees.

"The breakout sessions were very informative on a broad level," she said. "It was also nice to meet and talk one-on-one with the speakers in regards to our own individualized situations, questions, and concerns."

"Both military and family members shared their experience with one another on issues they faced and how they dealt with them," said Sergeant Canionero. "This was a very good thing because most of us went through similar trials and learned that we all had different solutions."

Feedback, from surveys received after the event, were very positive about the experience - ranging from the warm reception given by hotel staff to having the opportunity to share their experiences with other people.

One particular survey comment which stood out concerned a couple crediting the event with saving their relationship.

"It is a moment like that which makes all the planning, stress, and obstacles in putting together such a big event worthwhile," said Sergeant Hudson. "It is getting the deployers reintegrated back into their lives now that they have returned home."

The 624th CES is part of the 624th RSG, the largest Air Force Reserve presence in the Pacific, comprised of five units at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, Hawaii, and Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.