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Troops, families gather in Minneapolis to reconnect

Hundreds of military members and their families from across the country attended a Minneapolis event Saturday to help them better adjust to life before and after overseas deployments.

It's part of the many efforts nationwide to help troops reintegrate into life back home.

"As a soldier, when I go to deploy, it's Friday. When I come home a year later, it's Saturday ... but all these life events go on," said Bryan Taylor of the Fort McCoy, Wis.-based 88th Regional Support Command, which put on the reintegration conference.

Saturday's program was mostly for Army Reserve soldiers and their families, who came from 66 units across 36 states. And for the first time, they hosted a public official -- U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and his wife, Frannie, who thanked the veterans and their families for the difficult separations that they endure in order to serve their country.

"The household changes and that's what this program is about," Franken said before meeting with children and teenagers of military members who are overseas now or have just returned. "This program is designed to make that easier."

The Minnesota National Guard started the "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" program in 2005, offering reintegration sessions for veterans and their families. It was so successful that Congress mandated in 2008 that all states have a reintegration program.

Now there are hundreds of federally funded reintegration programs for troops in every branch of the military. The programs provide an array of services, including marriage counseling, mental health counseling and parenting-skills training, all designed to help veterans and their families adjust both to deployment and to life back home.

As deployments decrease, there is concern that the federal funding could be reduced, jeopardizing reintegration programs like Saturday's event that connect troops and their families in many different ways.

"Minnesota is very much a leader in vet issues," Army Reserve Col. Rhonda Smillie said. "But as deployments go down, this could be on the chopping block."

@kellystrib

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