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Program to coordinate assistance for vets, families kicks off Tuesday

When Kammy Nelson's son Jayme was deployed to Iraq in 2007, Nelson witnessed the toll it took on her new daughter-in-law, forced to juggle parenting and work without the aid of her husband.

"It was an eye-opening experience," Nelson said of her son's deployment. "In watching my daughter-in-law that year, I saw a whole different side of things."

Jayme has since returned home to his wife and kids, but Nelson still has made it her mission to reach out to other military families in the area.

Upon Jayme's return, Nelson busied herself in military support groups in the area, including Willmar Family Readiness Group, Home Front Connection and her church's own military ministry. Nelson said through these groups, she met a network of community members passionate to care for veterans and military families. Nelson's efforts were spread thin across a number of organizations.

"There is so much support out there, but it's not coordinated," Nelson said. "So much is happening already that people are doing to support military families, yet it's not connected to anything."

Wanting to unify military support groups and community volunteers, Nelson enlisted the National Guard to jump start the Yellow Ribbon City Program, a campaign which empowers community leaders to synchronize efforts and build a network of support for service members and families throughout the deployment cycle.

The National Guard invites the public to the initial Yellow Ribbon Campaign meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Willmar City Auditorium. Leaders and interested persons from all sectors of the community are invited.

The meeting is Willmar's first step in becoming a Yellow Ribbon City, and will include a presentation by a Minnesota Army National Guard member who has recently returned from deployment, as well as breakout sessions on topics that are important in the deployment cycle of service members and their families.

"My hope is that out of this initial meeting will emerge a core group of people that will come together and push towards becoming a Yellow Ribbon Community," Nelson said.