Weary travelers get their fill during layover

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- As members of today's Air Force, it's not uncommon to experience stress when dealing with the effects that result from increased operations tempos and deployments. Family separations, financial uncertainties, missed birthdays, training and fear of the unknown are only a few of the realities members face when leaving home for extended periods of time. Fortunately, Operation Yellow Ribbon is there to help.

The program offers active-duty members some much needed comfort and refreshment when they are headed to or returning home from a deployment destination.

"The main goal of Operation Yellow Ribbon is to be the last smiling face before servicemembers go downrange or the first to welcome them home when they get back," said Ali Thompson, OYR coordinator. "The program includes providing snacks, having people to talk to or something to break up the monotony of flying halfway around the world."

Completely run by volunteers from around the base, the program serves anywhere from 200 to 400 troops every week. Military members, including guard and reserve personnel, and civilian contractors all transition through Aviano Air Base during their two to three-hour layover for fueling before continuing on to their assigned destinations.

"Volunteers are the be-all and end-all of this program," Mrs. Thompson said. "Without the volunteers and the sponsors, there wouldn't be a program. We couldn't run this program without them because the program is not funded."

Along with the warm smiles and conversations from volunteers, members receive donated snacks and drinks. The OYR organization supplies coffee, water - and on occasion - sodas, as well as all paper products and condiments needed. Troops also receive a snack, provided by the sponsor or volunteers, which can consist of anything from cake, cookies, fruit, sandwiches, and on occasion pasta or hot dogs. During the nicer months, sponsors can even choose to barbeque for those traveling through.

Mrs. Thompson said the OYR program is always looking for sponsors and volunteers to perform various functions, such as OYR liaison, setup and tear down or providing snacks and utensils.

"Operation Yellow Ribbon is definitely a morale thing," she said. "From my perspective (having) never deployed, I am not active duty, I have no idea what these people are going to do. I have no idea what they are coming back from. I just see their reaction of us just being there. For something that is so small for us, it's such a big deal to them; I never understand why that is. It is clearly meaningful to them and it's meaningful for me."

Anyone interested in volunteering for the program as an individual or as a group to sponsor a day or set of days, can contact avianoab.OYR@gmail for more information.

(Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes contributed to the story)