Yellow Ribbon Fund Keeps Troops’ Families Mobile
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 1, 2009 Servicemembers’ long-term rehabilitation shouldn’t keep them, or their family members, bound to the hospital grounds, and the Yellow Ribbon Fund is working to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Roseanna Smith was the 1,000th renter through the Yellow Ribbon Fund’s car rental program. Her son, Army Pfc. Craig Smith, has been recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after losing a leg while serving in Iraq. Photo courtesy of Yellow Ribbon Fund
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Founded in 2005, the organization was created to assist injured servicemembers and their families while they recuperate at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Toward that goal, it offers several programs for recovering servicemembers, including a mentor/intern program in which they can learn job skills from a local company.
“The Yellow Ribbon Fund is the only organization that provides free rental cars to the family members of the injured servicemembers at NNMC and WRAMC,” said Marie Wood, the group’s first vice president and director of communications. “These cars provide transportation away from hospital grounds for our wounded warriors their family members.
“As one wife told me about availability of a car after she had been caring for her husband for months at Walter Reed, ‘It's like being released from jail to have car, finally,’” she added.
Family members and friends visiting a recovering servicemember are eligible to a Yellow Ribbon Fund rental car through the Soldier and Family Assistance Center at either medical facility. This ensures that the request is coming from someone legitimately there to visit a servicemember, Wood explained.
Servicemembers are not eligible to rent a car themselves, however, and for good reason, said Diane Shoemaker, Yellow Ribbon Fund’s director of housing and transportation.
“We have no way of knowing who is on medication [that might impair the ability to drive],” she said. But the staff at the dealership that provides the cars goes out of its way to be kind to the soldiers and their visiting families, she added.
The dealership, Nextcar Rentals, is owned by Jack Fitzgerald. As of June 29, he had rented 1,032 vehicles, mostly PT Cruisers, to servicemembers’ families through Yellow Ribbon Fund. That model seems to work best for those who need to transport wheelchairs, Shoemaker said.
Renters may keep the vehicles for 28 days, at which point they’re required to return them. If they need them for longer, they can contact Shoemaker to renew the rental, but they still need to take the cars back to the rental company for servicing, she said.
“The person renting the car is required to furnish the gas, so that when they take the car back to the dealership it’s on full,” Shoemaker said. “They are also responsible for any parking tickets [and] any damage to the car while they have it. Renters must be 21, a standard rule of car renting, she added.
If there’s any doubt about the importance of the program, one need look no further than Danielle Gillon.
Gillon is the manager of Nextcar Rental’s Wheaton, Md., location, which supplies the rentals for the Yellow Ribbon Fund program.
“It means a lot -- it means transportation,” she said. “Some of [the families] are here with children, and they’re here for an extended period of time. They’re able to get their children to and from school. They’re able to get the patients out of the hospital for awhile, just to get away.
“Without the vehicle,” she continued, “they would be stranded at the hospital, whether it’s at the Navy base or at Walter Reed. So I know that it means a lot to them, because they say it. They’re quite grateful.”