Helping Those Who Protect Our Freedom
Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network offers support to military families in the community in gratitude for their service.
Putting up Christmas lights, shoveling the driveway and changing the furnace filter might seem like routine tasks.
But for Staff Sgt. Marcus Kuboy (ret.), a 30-year-old Iraq war veteran living in Woodbury, when members of the community stepped up to help him get those chores done, the experience was far from routine.
Members of the Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network stopped out at Kuboy's home in early December to lend a hand. He has lived in Woodbury for two and a half years; his house was built specifically for him by Homes for Our Troops, a national nonprofit that provides homes for severely disabled veterans.
"Not long after I got in touch with someone from the Woodbury network, these people showed up to help me out, and it was great," said Kuboy. "A lot of them were veterans themselves, but some were just supporters of the military who wanted to help."
The Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network, celebrating its first anniversary in January, is dedicated to supporting military families before, during and after deployment. Woodbury is one of several designated Yellow Ribbon communities in Minnesota, part of a program called Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, launched by the Minnesota National Guard.
In March 2007, Kuboy suffered several serious injuries, including broken legs and feet as well as a traumatic brain injury, while serving in Fallujah, where he was deployed as an infantry medic. After an initial stay in Germany, Kuboy returned to the U.S. and the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for four months and then the Minneapolis VA Hospital for six months.
Although doctors at Walter Reed told Kuboy he'd never walk again, he beat the odds. Not only has he shed his wheelchair, but the adaptive footwear he was told he'd have to wear for the rest of his life is now gone too.
"I'm pretty ambulatory, but I'll never be a sprinter again," he said with a laugh.
For members of the military returning to their families and communities, life can be challenging in a variety of ways, according to Darrin Ewing, chair of the Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network. Ewing is still an active member of the Minnesota Air National Guard and is currently in his 21st year of service.
"Especially with this tough economy, the usual challenges to reintegration can be even harder," he said.
Military families tend to want to "fly solo" and are often hesitant to reach out for help, said Ewing.
"We've learned not to ask folks what they need help with—we just ask them what day they want us to come out," he said. "We don't really give them the opportunity to say 'no.'"
Ewing said the Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network, which has 60 people on its mailing list and more than 20 that regularly show up for monthly meetings, has been thankful of the outpouring of support from community members on behalf of military families.
"Just before the holidays, we got a call from our newly elected mayor Mary Giulani Stephens. She asked what she and members of her Bible study group could do for families at Christmas. They ended up delivering wreaths and gift baskets to several of our military families in the area," he said.
City Councilwoman Julie Ohs is another active member of the Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network, and Ewing also credits members of the VFW Woodbury Post 9024 and the Woodbury American Legion Post 501 for their ongoing support and volunteerism.
"I think their members make up at least 80 percent of our volunteer pool," Ewing said.
Due to privacy restrictions, the Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network is not informed about military families in the area—it is incumbent upon the service members or their spouses to make initial contact with the organization. By visiting the Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network online at www.woodburyyellowribbon.com, families can request assistance in areas such as home maintenance, computer assistance, job search skills, and child care.
There is also a volunteer group called FAST (Fast Action Support Team) that is part of the network and is available to respond to immediate needs such as snow shoveling, putting up a swing set, moving, etc.
Chuck Haas, president of the Washington County Yellow Ribbon Network (a separate entity from the Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network) said there are currently 17,000 military veterans in the U.S.
"We want all our military families to know they are recognized and appreciated," he said. "To those who are hesitant to ask for help, I like to say that there are so many people in this community that have a feeling of patriotism. While they have never served themselves, it's important for them to be able to do something for those who have."
Staff Sgt. Kuboy is so grateful for the support he has received, he's currently exploring ways to become more involved with the Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network himself and may help coordinate the efforts of local teen volunteers looking to assist area veterans.
Community members interested in volunteering with the Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network are encouraged to visit the website for more details. According to Ewing, many local community groups and faith organizations are already involved and would welcome new members to their teams.
Financial donations are also welcome. The Woodbury Lions Club Veterans Memorial Council is the current fiscal agent for the Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network. Ewing said the Woodbury YRN is currently pursuing its 501C-3 status.