Men, women and families impacted by military combat can often have a hard time adjusting to the changes they experience. What they may or may not know is that resources to help them cope with such changes are available and offered at many community colleges.



Washingtonian Steve Brown was recently presented with an award to recognize the part he played in joining the military’s Yellow Ribbon Program, which is aimed at providing veteran services with community colleges.


Men, women and families impacted by military combat can often have a hard time adjusting to the changes they experience. What they may or may not know is that resources to help them cope with such changes are available and offered at many community colleges.

Washingtonian Steve Brown was recently presented with an award to recognize the part he played in joining the military’s Yellow Ribbon Program, which is aimed at providing veteran services with community colleges.

“Yellow Ribbon is an umbrella name assigned by the National Guard for programs and services that were designed to help families of service members and service members adjust to the coming and going on active duty,” Brown said.

As military officials were seeking sites across the state to host the program, Brown, a long-time public relations professional and Illinois veteran, was working with the Illinois Council of Community College Presidents.

“I was able to identify that group as one that would be very eager to be helpful to the National Guard and brought them together,” Brown said. “The community colleges offer the sites and the Guard comes in with personnel who are trained in helping families prepare for a member going on active duty.”

Last year, programs were offered on more than 40 campuses. 

Through the program, families learn what can be expected while a member is away on active duty, when families must run without one of the adult family members.

“Sometimes that’s a real eye-opening experience for families,” Brown said.

With an adult out of the picture, families are often left with concerns about salaries and health care.

“Sometimes the other adult left behind needs to go find a job or get another job or get some job training,” Brown said. “In some cases community colleges have been very active in helping family members sign up for courses that could lead them to be retrained for a new job or to improve the job they have.”

The Yellow Ribbon Program’s services do not stop once a family is reunited.

“The program also is designed to help the family and the service member as they’re returning,” Brown said.

Services provided include helping the service member readjust to life back home and letting family members know what to expect and how to support the family member, who may be returning from very intense and often violent situations.

“The community colleges have been very happy to be home for the Yellow Ribbon Programs,” Brown said.
“I was happy to be involved in being one of the people to put these two groups together.”

John Erwin, president of Illinois Central College, has worked with Brown on programs for the council, including Yellow Ribbon.

“It creates the most receptive environment possible for veterans and their families to adjust again to civilian life,” Erwin said. 

He added that there are several hundred veterans taking classes at ICC, who can take advantage of services offered by the Yellow Ribbon program.

With concerns regarding the economic recession and reduction in state funds, Brown said a current focus of the program is “the role that community colleges can be playing as an economic development tool and as a job trainer.”

Brown, a former Illinois National Guardsman, was never deployed on active duty as many of those who benefit from the Yellow Ribbon Program are. He said he has a “small feeling” of what it is like to be separated from friends and family while serving the country and then coming back.

“I don’t think the military — I don’t think society — really is aware today of what people go through when they’re in an active combat situation and then are expected to come back to, ‘Hey, let’s just put on our suits and ties and go to work,’” he said. “I think that puts a real indelible mark into your brain and people need to recognize and just need to be more understanding.”

Brown was presented the Illinois National Guard’s Yellow Ribbon Program’s Outstanding Service Award in June.

“The nation has made this huge commitment in terms of putting military personnel into Iraq and
Afghanistan and a lot of other places, and we need to understand that commitment has to extend to the post service time,” Brown said. “I think our community colleges are very willing to do all that. I’m happy that the National Guard recognized me. I’m happy to be able to talk about it and maybe just jog everybody’s memories that that commitment is one that’s going to be with us for a long, long time.”