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Pictured are, back row, from left, Gov. Mark Dayton; Beltrami County Commissioner Joe Vene; Bemidji Mayor Dave Larson; Forrest Smith, business coordinator for the First City Yellow Ribbon Network; Aaron Yliniemi, chairman of the First City Yellow Ribbon Network; U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, and Brig. Gen. Robert F. Cayton. The two unidentified men holding the banner are members of the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion. Brian Basham | Detroit Lakes Tribune


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DETROIT LAKES — “Freedom isn’t free” is a phrase used often in conjunction with military service.

But its implication – that the freedoms enjoyed by U.S. citizens are made possible by the voluntary risks and sacrifices of its military personnel – was given sharp emphasis at this week’s “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Day” festivities in Detroit Lakes.

Described as a comprehensive program that creates awareness for the purpose of connecting service members and their families with community support, training, services and resources, the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program now has more than 130 support networks established across the state of Minnesota.

Nine more networks, including the First City Yellow Ribbon Network from the Bemidji area, were added to that list in a special recognition ceremony held at the Detroit Lakes Pavilion.

“This campaign from its inception has been a joint venture between the city of Bemidji and Beltrami County,” said Bemidji Mayor Dave Larson, who attended the ceremony. “It encompasses the surrounding area of Bemidji. There isn’t a boundary.”

Larson said the local steering committee has partnered with business, service organizations, churches and others to make a wide range of services available to military families.

“If a family member needs assistance mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, with car repairs, legal advice or counseling, they can call a single phone number and from there they will be referred to the proper resource,” Larson said. “They just make a single call for help.”

Beltrami County Commissioner Joe Vene also attended the event, along with local steering committee members Forrest Smith and Aaron Yliniemi.

Also receiving certificates were the Detroit Lakes-based Yellow Ribbon of the Lakes Network; Operation Lakes Pride Network, based in Fergus Falls; and Beyond the Yellow Ribbon networks based in the cities of Long Prairie, Moorhead, Thief River Falls, Wadena, Alexandria/Douglas County and the campus of Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Gov. Mark Dayton talked about freedom in his keynote address to the crowd at the Detroit Lakes Pavilion.

He said that “freedom is not free” was a lesson he learned while visiting with Minnesota troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, while walking the beaches of Normandy in France, and while attending the funeral services of “those courageous men and women who gave their lives to protect our freedoms around the world.”

But it’s also a lesson that needs to be kept in mind with regard to military personnel when they return home after serving in combat, Dayton added.

“These returning men and women have been seriously impacted by the stress and strain of what they experienced,” he said.

And that is why the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program was established in Minnesota.

Congressman Collin Peterson, who also spoke at the festivities, discussed how proud he was that Minnesota had become a leader in establishing similar programs across the U.S.

“Minnesota has been a leader in lots of things, but this is, I think, one of the great things that we’ve done,” he said.

Both Dayton and Peterson praised the work of retired Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito – now the head of the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs – in establishing the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program.

Also speaking during the festivities was Brig. Gen. Robert Cayton, chief of staff of the Minnesota Air National Guard.

He noted how, during World War II, one out of every 12 Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Today, he said, that ratio has shrunk to one out of every 224 people – and because they have become a smaller segment of the population, it could cause them to be-come disconnected from society, if it weren’t for programs like Beyond the Yellow Ribbon.

“Yellow Ribbon Networks are invaluable,” he said, because their support comes in so many forms, from child care services and health care accessibility for military families to finding jobs for returning veterans.

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