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Operation Yellow Ribbon supports troops

Barb Yates, right, hands out snacks to members of the 31st Fighter Wing deploying for AEF 5/6 Saturday in Hangar Four.  (Photo by Airman 1st Class Liliana Moreno)

Barb Yates, right, hands out snacks to members of the 31st Fighter Wing deploying for AEF 5/6 Saturday in Hangar Four. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Liliana Moreno)

Aviano Air Base, Italy -- Operation Yellow Ribbon volunteers demonstrated their support Saturday and Sunday for hundreds of troops deploying both from and transiting through Aviano, with snacks, beverages and a friendly face.

About 70 Aviano members were at Hangar Four preparing to deploy and about 210 troops deploying from the states were gathered in Hangar One while their plane refueled.

"The troops have to be sequestered about two to three hours prior to deployment, so after they process through their mobility line, they just sit and wait," said Deborah Watson, Operation Yellow Ribbon coordinator.

That waiting time is where the OYR volunteers come in. They set up tables with snacks and beverages, stationary, books and other small items troops sometimes forget.
"We'll run last-minute errands, provide snacks and drinks, or just be a friendly ear," said Alyson Jackson-Hill, a four-year OYR volunteer. "Some people suddenly have last minute things they want to say, so they'll write letters and we'll mail it for them.

"Being there helps soften the blow of a deployment and lets them know it's not just the families who care about them. They're not just out of sight, out of mind," she said.
OYR originally started when the Global War on Terrorism began and Aviano had huge numbers of troops stopping here on the rotator.

"They would come in the hundreds, many times a week, and they would be stuck in the hangars for hours at a time," said Mrs. Watson. "Volunteers from the base found out that they were sitting there with nothing, no vending machines, coffee or anything. So [the volunteers] got together and decided they would provide whatever support they could to each plane."

Now, more than four years later, OYR runs strictly on volunteer time and donations of money, food and baked goods.

The rotator that used to fly into Aviano twice a week, taking troops from the states downrange and bringing troops back, was moved to a new location.

"One of the troops' fathers had heard about the program from his son and for two years the father and the organization he worked for raised money for us," said Mrs. Watson. "When the rotator moved, we felt that the funds should go with it, so the money that came from the states, which was almost $20,000 for the past 18 months, left too."

The shortage of funds had the OYR staff a little worried, especially when they learned that about 2,000 Army troops were to process through Aviano.

"The program ran on donations before, so we hoped it would be able to again," Mrs. Watson said. "Aviano has stepped up - it's been amazing."

In December, Aviano people and Airman Leadership School Class 07-D spent more than 340 volunteer hours and raised $2,518 in donations.

While the money raised helped provide items for Airmen deploying for AEF 5/6, Mrs. Watson said OYR could always use more support through donations and volunteers.
"Right now, OYR can take any funds that are donated or any goods that will not go bad," she said. "Anything from the commissary such as beef jerky, individually portion-sized items or bottled water is great."

"It's good to feed them before they get on the plane for five hours," she said.
Donations can be taken to the Airman and Family Readiness Center in Area One. To volunteer, e-mail Deborah Watson at clanwatson@sbcglobal.net with a duty or daytime number and an evening or cell phone number. Volunteers have to be flexible due to last-minute schedule changes.