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New program aims to help soldiers adjust to home life

Denny Shields knows what it's like to transition from military to civilian life. The former colonel did it himself about three years ago.

While he had a pretty easy transition, he knows it can be difficult for some and he wants to help in any way he can. To that end he signed up to be a volunteer with the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Employment Coach program.

The new program, which is just being rolled out, hopes to help soldiers find meaningful employment outside of the service by paring service members with a mentor in the field they are interested in.

The program launch coincides with the large group of soldiers returning with the 34th Infantry Division. Some of the soldiers don't have jobs to return to and others will find their old jobs don't mean much to them any more.

"For many their perspective has changed," Shields said of returning service members.

As a coach, Shields hopes to help a couple of returning soldiers spruce up their resumes, freshen up interviewing strategies and possibly even help them get interviews.

"I'll do what I can to help them. These people have so much to offer the civilian world," Shields said.

Shields is a vice president at Weber Shandwick. Before joining the public relations firm, Shields was director of public affairs for the Minnesota Air and Army National Guard

The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon group started the employment coach program as a way to help soldiers looking for employment become better candidates for positions.

"Our goal is to help them put their best foot forward," said Megan Riffe, the employee relations liaison for the Minnesota Army National Guard.

The program will help soldiers do that by linking them with a mentor who can give good advice on how to better prepare. Riffe said she is compiling a list of people who can help soldiers find jobs in a variety of fields.

"We want people who have experience and knowledge," said Riffe.

She said they will try to team soldiers up with people in fields they are interested in. For example, Riffe said they have several former police officers that have signed up to help soldiers interested in going into law enforcement.

Being a mentor won't be a real time consuming commitment. She said the program only requires mentors meet with their service members for two, one-hour sessions. The hope is after the initial meetings the mentor and the soldier will establish some sort of connection.

So far 35 people have signed up to be mentors for the program. Riffe said she hopes to get 50 or more on the list. An orientation will be held Feb. 22 to get information to the volunteers.

Riffe said the program will help as many service members as possible. To promote the program to returning soldiers she said the program will have a table at the 30 and 60 day reintegration programs for the 34th Infantry Division.

"We wish we could find a job for every service member who wants one but we can't. All we can do is help them be the best that they can be," said Riffe.

Anyone interested in becoming a mentor can e-mail Megan Riffe at

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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