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Cottage Grove Beyond the Yellow Ribbon recognizes area businesses

The decal of a yellow ribbon displayed in the windows of more than two dozen Cottage Grove businesses isn’t just a symbol of solidarity for military personnel, it is also the marking of an organization that is committed to helping their families.

While coping with the stresses of deployment, often families left behind deal with their own emotional war. And simple chores around the house, such as mowing the lawn or shoveling snow, or even knowing which car repair shop is trustworthy, can be a struggle.

That is when volunteers with Beyond the Yellow Ribbon step in.

Since becoming an official Yellow Ribbon city in 2011, Cottage Grove has put to work an action plan geared toward assisting military families in a variety of different areas of life, including the business world.

To thank area businesses for being a “Proud Supporter of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon,” a meet and greet event will take place at 7:30 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 9, at Merchant’s Bank in Cottage Grove.

“Our business arm of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is our most successful network, other than our volunteer network,” said Sgt. First Class Erik Holtan, the organization’s chair.

Holtan, who is a 23-year veteran of the military and currently a full-time officer in the Army National Guard, assumed the leadership role earlier in 2013. With the help of Sgt. Katie Warden, who is also a full-time Guard member and the business coordinator for the organization, military families have access to a reputable network of area retailers that offer special discounts.

“It’s not necessarily that military families are out looking for discounts as much as it is about offering them a network of businesses that are committed to providing a benefit to a service member or veteran,” Holtan said. “For example, someone will say ‘Hey, what car care shop can I trust to bring my car to?’ We’ll be able to look in our network and provide them with a business we know they can trust.”

The business network took off, Holtan said, in 2011 and since then has accumulated more than two dozen retailers on its roster who display the “Proud Supporter of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon” on their door. Health and wellness companies, several legal firms, financial institutions, restaurants and auto centers are just a few of the different businesses within the organization’s network.

Merchant’s Bank, Holtan said, offers veterans special incentives when signing up for a bank account. Cottage Grove Auto & Collision offers a discount on non-insurance covered repair for both service members and spouses.

Another supporter is area personal trainer Annie Elmer, who said becoming a supporter was a way she could help military wives de-stress.

“When I first heard Cottage Grove was going to have a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, I thought it was a great idea,” she said. “My skill is to offer personal training to any military wives that might appreciate help getting started with physical activity to get strong or to help relieve stress.”

While the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon organization offers a network of businesses that offer military discounts, it also helps families with household chores and errands.

Gary Bloedel, former chair of the organization and longtime Chief Warrant Officer in the Army National Guard, said dedicated volunteers go above and beyond to help military families in need.

“Saying ‘Thank you,’ those are just words, they are important words but a deed says more,” he explained. “When you do something like perform a deed for the family it’s a nice way of showing your appreciation. More people need to embrace the concept of thanking people for unselfishly volunteering their services to their country.”

On average, Holtan said the organization assists between 10 to 15 families a year. But with military units coming home, he said not many families are reaching out for help.

“In the military we are told all the time that it is OK to ask for help,” he said. “But right now, there just isn’t that audience out there.”

Despite the lull in activity, Holtan said there continues to be a steady stream of volunteers waiting to assist military families in need.

“It provides a good sense of community,” Holtan said of being part of the organization. “If anything, there is also a sense of service. This is a great way to show your appreciation and support.”

For more information about Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, visit the website at