News | Oct. 26, 2016

Wing welcomes new Yellow Ribbon rep

By Chief Master Sgt. Matt Proietti Yellow Ribbon Public Affairs

The 940th Air Refueling Wing has its own Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program representative for the first time in nearly two years.

Senior Master Sgt. Ellie Torres, superintendent of nursing services at the 940th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, started an extended active-duty tour Oct. 1 to help unit members participate in Yellow Ribbon, which promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. Each year, the program trains 7,000 Air Force reservists and those closest to them in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more at weekend training sessions around the country.

“My big goal is to make it smoother so it’s not the actual process stopping them from attending,” Torres said. “They think it’s a hassle.”

Yellow Ribbon began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles.

Torres, 41, started Yellow Ribbon work Oct. 1 after attending training at Air Force Reserve Command headquarters at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and expects to be in the position at least a year to 18 months. She anticipates being busy as the wing deploys more than 100 reservists in early 2017, most of them connected to KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling duty. Earlier this year, the 940th returned to its historic mission of operating that aircraft, which led to more deployment taskings than it has had since its last fulltime Yellow Ribbon representative, Maj. Todd Guiney, completed a 3-year tour of duty here in December 2014. Since then, Senior Master Sgt. Shannon D. Vanderzwaag from the 349th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base has helped Beale reservists.

Torres has never deployed, but said she doesn’t believe that will hinder her effectiveness in the position. She serves as the functional manager for 13 enlisted medics and two officer nurses in her squadron and, as a civilian, works on an on-call basis as a registered nurse for the Department of Veterans Affairs, putting her into close contact with wartime veterans.

“I like helping and it’s interesting to see our deployers in a different aspect,” she said.

The Roseville, California, resident is a divorced mother of a grown son and is a native of Palau, a Pacific island republic roughly halfway between Guam and the Philippines. She moved to Hawaii as a teenager and joined the Air Force at 23. She arrived at Beale AFB in 1998 as an active-duty supply technician and became a reservist here in 2004.

The increase in 940th members attending Yellow Ribbon training has begun. Thirteen pre-deployers went to an event Sept. 23-25 in Phoenix with Wing Commander Col. Craig C. Peters and Chief Master Sgt. Carmen Madia, the unit’s top enlisted person. Others will participate in training this fall.

“Yellow Ribbon brings reservists together with those they care about most so they know where to get answers to questions if the need arises,” Madia said. “It provides numerous resources to keep everything at home running smoothly before, during and after a deployment.”

Aside from her weekday Yellow Ribbon position and medical duties on drill weekends, Torres will work at half of the Yellow Ribbon events this fiscal year with representatives from other wings. Jobs rotate at these training weekends. At one event Torres may serve as a room monitor; at the next she could work on a registration team or be an emcee.

“Wing reps are truly the backbone of the program,” said Mary Hill, Yellow Ribbon program manager at Reserve headquarters. “They work so hard keeping everything in order at their units and then come together in various roles to make our events a success. They just always do what needs to be done to support our deployers and their loved ones.”

Torres spread the word about Yellow Ribbon to scores of pre-deployment reservists who went through a medical processing line during their October drill weekend. She was there in her clinic role but talked about Yellow Ribbon to individuals she met.

She was surprised at reactions she received upon mentioning it. Some didn’t understand that they are put on active-duty orders for the training and paid to attend. One person told Torres he had deployed three times yet never heard of Yellow Ribbon, while others said they knew about it but declined to participate because it saves them from submitting for reimbursement of travel expenses via the online Defense Travel System, which some find cumbersome, she said.

“They turn it down (because) they hate to do travel vouchers,” Torres said. “I’ll help them with it (so they will go). I think everyone is interested in learning more about their benefits.”

Nine Yellow Ribbon training dates and locations have been confirmed for 2017 with others to be added. The Air Force Reserve doesn’t share sites or dates online publicly out of concern for the security of participants. Deploying Beale reservists may obtain the information by contacting Torres weekdays at (530) 634-1918.