From the war zone to home

Yellow Ribbon program supports vets in transition

Each of the three times Danielle Maklary has had to say goodbye to her husband when his National Guard unit deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq has been hard, but his deployment this year was the most difficult “goodbye.”

“When he left, our son was 3 months old,” Maklary said Sunday. “It was more difficult because I had the older ones and a baby by myself.”

Sgt. Brian Maklary said he missed the milestones his baby, Zane, experienced during his first year and time with his older sons Issiah, 12, and Marques, 7.

“It was the worst one for me, too,” Brian Maklary said. “I always try spending more time with them before I go, but this time it was harder because we had training for about a year before we left.”

While deployment isn’t easy for families separated by military service, the return home of that loved one also presents challenges as families readjust to being together again.

This weekend, the Maklarys and other Louisiana National Guard soldiers and airmen attended events designed to help ease families through the transition from deployment to the return home of the soldier.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program offers families and their military loved ones guidance and support services.

The Yellow Ribbon program in Baton Rouge ended Sunday with a Freedom Salutes awards ceremony where 250 soldiers and airmen received Louisiana War Cross awards for their service in either Kuwait or Afghanistan. Honored Sunday with the Louisiana War Cross were soldiers and airmen from the 159th Fighter Wing, based in Belle Chasse; 204th Theater Area Operations Group, Hammond; 2nd Battalion (Airfield Operations Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment, Pineville; and the 2225th Multi-Role Bridge Company, Marrero.

Though they’ve been home more than two months, assimilating back into the family’s routine takes time, Brian Maklary said.

“Before, I’d come home from a tour trying to do what I did before I left,” he said. “You can’t do that.”

“It’s not good for the kids either. They’re used to their routine, too,” Danielle Maklary said. “It makes their adjustment easier if we stick to their routine.”

The weekend was an opportunity to honor military members’ service, but also to honor the roles of their families who provided support during their family member’s deployment, said Maj. Gen. Stephen Dabadie, assistant adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard.

Dabadie credited family members for their heavy-lifting and giving soldiers and airmen the peace of mind they need to perform their duties while on a deployment.

Trystan Ganey, 11, of Ponchatoula, is experienced at waiting out deployments. His father and stepfather both serve in the Louisiana National Guard. His advice to other children of military members: “Do your best to have fun, but still not worry about them as much. Just relax. Play video games. Watch movies. Send them videos and care packages.”

When his parents are deployed, Trystan keeps a calendar and marks off the days until they return home. When that day comes, Trystan offered more advice on how to handle it.

“Be happy. Give them a hug. Go have some fun together. Make sure you’re happy and have fun together,” Trystan said.

Technology has helped families bridge the distance.

During his deployment with the 2225th, Specialist Ralhston James charted the growth of his 2-month-old son, Marley, and his 2-year-old daughter, Jada, over Skype video calls between their home in Hammond and where he was stationed in Afghanistan.

Marley is now 15 months old and Jada is 3.

“It was overwhelming to come back and see them all grown up,” James said.

During the awards ceremony Sunday, families sat together with their soldiers and airmen. At times during the ceremony, James fed Marley a bottle and the young boy happily played on his father’s lap until it came time for James to stand and take his place in the front of the room to receive his awards. Marley cried as his father walked away.

“It felt more like a relief when he came home. A part of our family was missing,” said Katie James, his wife. “It was rough, but lots of communication helped. That’s the key.”

The family took a week-long vacation to San Antonio upon his return and Rahlston James is spending more time with his “assistant” — Jada, who enjoys going to the hardware store with her dad.

“We make sheds. We make fish aquarium stands,” he said.

The family attended the Yellow Ribbon events throughout the weekend to learn about available services and benefits, Rahlston James said.

“The military is all about family. It’s not possible without them,” he added.