In the early days of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the yellow ribbon was an ubiquitous symbol of home-front support for troops overseas.
But for those still fighting the wars, and the families left behind to wait and worry, the yellow ribbons are as popular as ever.
Just ask Cyd Deathe, founder and executive director of Tampa Marine Families and the mother of a combat-wounded Marine.
Years ago, she made a personalized deployment ribbon for a longtime Marine wife whose husband was in Iraq. Last spring, he was deployed again and the woman wanted to know if she could order another ribbon.
"I told her that I would be happy to send one to her and soon the ribbon was in the mail," Deathe said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. "It was then that I realized how much the 'yellow ribbon' era profoundly impacted my life during my son's three deployments."
Deathe said her youngest daughter, Celine, now 18, was 5 when her son left for war the first time.
"I was struggling on how to help her understand how long he was going to be gone," she said. "We decided to tie a yellow ribbon on our fence each day and say a prayer for his safe return."
For the next deployment, they made a yellow chain of construction paper links throughout her room.
"Each day we would remove a link and say a prayer for his safe return," she said.
By the third deployment, her husband and youngest daughter crafted a "huge yellow ribbon, that mirrored the support magnets that were on so many cars during that time, and we placed it on a tree in our front yard so that everyone would see and know that we had our son deployed again."
The yellow ribbon symbol "defined our lives for those four years while my son served in the Marine Corps," Deathe said. "Whenever we saw a ribbon we knew that someone else was experiencing the emotions and pride of having a loved one in the military defending our nation and more than likely serving in harm's way."
To re-establish the yellow ribbon campaign, Deathe said her group posted an update on the Marine Families Facebook page nearly a year ago to the day to see if anyone wanted one.
"We started with a $500 donation, from a Gold Star Mom, and the Yellow Ribbon Project was born," she said.
At first the requests were handled via email and came in slowly.
"Then the whole project gained momentum and before we knew it the requests were pouring in daily," she said. "In our request response letter we let the recipient know that the project will only go on as long as funds are available."
The group provides the ribbons, which cost about $5 a piece, free to military families. Some folks send in donations.
So far, the group has sent out more than 750 personalized ribbons to families the world over.
But a recent look at the books showed some bad news.
"Our treasurer delivered our end of year spreadsheets and I was saddened to learn that the Yellow Ribbon Project has not been supporting itself and is in the 'red,'" Deathe said. "We currently have 84 requests waiting to be filled and others will be pouring in each day unless we tell them that the project has been cancelled for lack of funding."
Deathe is looking for support.
"What may seem like an insignificant gesture to many is a symbol of hope and pride for families dealing with deployment," she said.
For more information, or to make a donation, contact Deathe at www.MarineFamilies.org or (813) 965-2682.
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The Department of Defense last week announced the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel.
Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37, of Edgewood, Md., died April 8 in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using small arms fire during combat operations.
De Alencar was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 34 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan; 30 troop deaths and one civilian death in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; and one death under classified as other contingency operations as part of the global war on terrorism.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman