ST. LOUIS — When Sgt. Nicholas Moore returned from his first deployment with the Missouri National Guard, he was too exhausted to absorb all the details about the military benefits and support services for which he was eligible.
It was 2004 and he had just returned from Iraq.
"We were so fatigued from just being back," said Moore, 28, of Woodson Terrace. Then after the quick briefing at Fort Leonard Wood, "It was like, 'OK, off you go!'"
But it has been a much different experience since he returned from his second deployment, this time as part of the multinational peacekeeping force in Kosovo. Since March, he has spent two weekends in the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program that the Pentagon started last year for guardsmen.
Along with about 350 other Missouri National Guardsmen and their families, Moore spent a weekend at the Renaissance Grand Hotel downtown. They were given spending money to eat around town and were handed certificates, pins and other mementos at a "freedom salute" ceremony.
But the heart of the program is three days of briefings on everything from military benefits such as health insurance and educational assistance to workshops on suicide prevention and reintegrating into civilian life.
"We didn't have anything like this before," Moore said as he sat in a hotel ballroom waiting to be called up to the stage at the "freedom salute" ceremony.
Had there been more of a formal outreach program like this a couple of years ago, Moore said, he might have gone to college sooner or sought help to deal with the effects of serving in Iraq.
While he and other guardsmen joked and rolled their eyes about the repetition of some of the workshops, many of them also said the overall program helped them wade through the complicated fine print so they could access military benefits.
Maj. Scott Zimmerman, who leads the Yellow Ribbon program for the Missouri National Guard, acknowledged that some of the information is redundant. He said he tries to avoid repetition between the two post-deployment programs, which are held around 45 days and then again about 90 days after guardsmen return.
"But redundancy is only a problem if 100 percent of the people came to the event the last time," he said. While the weekend programs are supposed to be mandatory, he said that sometimes many people can't make it.
The guardsmen who took part in the Yellow Ribbon program were among 1,600 U.S. troops who served in a peacekeeping force in Kosovo from July 2008 to March of this year. About 1,000 of them are from Missouri. An additional 1,200 troops from a half-dozen other countries, such as Poland, Greece and Romania, that were also part of the multinational force.
As she watched her husband walk across the stage, Nikki Buckley of Farmington recalled how it was hard at first for her two young boys — one of whom was born during Spc. David Buckley's service in Kosovo — approach him when he returned.
"It took them almost a week, but they know he's 'Dad' now," she said.
But then they found out a couple of weeks ago that he will go to Afghanistan in October after he volunteered for another deployment. She's already worried about his safety.