A Yellow Ribbon Reflection

A few weeks ago I volunteered at a Post Deployment Yellow Ribbon Event organized by the Massachusetts National Guard. These are events organized by the military to support servicemen and servicewomen preparing for or returning from deployment. The BBA Active Duty Military, Family Members & Veterans Committee attends Yellow Ribbon events to provide brief legal advice and legal resources. As the Public Service Manager at the Boston Bar Association, I had heard a lot about this project, but had yet to experience it.

It was a rainy day in May and I was running a few minutes late. As I pulled up to the Burlington Marriott I was amazed by the sheer number of military personnel in full fatigue. As I searched for the other volunteers, I zigzagged my way through a crowd consisting mostly of men who towered over me. I have no previous experience with the military, I have no friends or family who have ever served, and to say I was intimidated is an understatement.

While one volunteer manned our table, I was sent with a Retired Colonel and the other volunteer to a small board room to talk one on one with returning soldiers about their legal issues. I fielded the family law questions since that is the area of law I used to practice.

For over two hours I spoke to men who needed help and advice on their family law issues. One soldier I spoke with had his 6 year old son with him. He wanted to discuss filing for divorce; his wife had left him and the children while he was deployed. The soldier reassured his son and encouraged him to sit at the table and draw while he talked with me. As soon as the father walked away, the son ran after him and climbed into his lap.  It was obvious how much this little boy was hurting. His father left on deployment and is back but then his mother left and he had to move out of his home. I was able to provide the father with some basic information and hopefully provide him with some guidance.

In those few moments with this father and son, the sacrifices these men and women are making and the toll it is taking on their families became so clear. I heard story after story that day that broke my heart.

Volunteering at the Yellow Ribbon Event was fully outside of my comfort zone. It was a new population I had never worked with coming back from an experience I had no connection to. Although I wasn’t able to solve these men’s problems, the help I was able to provide was more than they had before walking through that door. This was an experience I will never forget, and I will definitely volunteer for another Yellow Ribbon Event.

If you are interested in learning more about Yellow Ribbon Events or any of our other programs, please contact me at [email protected].

Sonia Shah

Public Service Manager, Boston Bar Association

Sonia Shah,
BBA Public Service Manager