Red Cross Continues Legacy of Troop, Family Support
(January 24, 2010)
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2011 – The face of the American Red
Cross' wartime mission could be conveyed through countless
images of volunteers greeting wounded warriors on
flightlines, offering comfort to troops serving in Iraq and
Afghanistan and providing much-needed support to family
members back home.
But while these images offer a snapshot of the
organization's focus on individuals, the numbers
impart the true magnitude of the Red Cross'
In fiscal 2010, the Red
Cross provided more than 597,000 emergency
communications services for nearly 150,000
military families, and nearly $6 million in
immediate financial aid to 5,000 families. And
thousands of volunteers –- including service
members, veterans and military spouses --
offered comfort and support to wounded and ill
troops and their families in hospitals
“If someone is at their wits'
end and not sure where to turn, we want them to
know they can turn to the Red Cross,” Peter
Macias, communications director for the Red
Cross' Service to the Armed Forces branch, told
Press Service. “We will do everything we can to
American Red Cross military support dates back more than a
century, when Red Cross founder Clara Barton began her
humanitarian work on the battlefields of the Civil War in
1861. Barton cared for the ill and wounded, provided a
conduit for emergency communications and reconnected
families with military loved ones.
The Red Cross'
mission remains exactly the same 150 years later, Macias
said. Although technology has sparked remarkable advances,
the Red Cross has stayed the course of Barton's original
vision: rapid and accurate emergency communication services,
care for the ill and wounded and service to military
To carry out its mission, the Red Cross has
a network of more than 1,500 offices around the world --
including sites in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait -- with
thousands of volunteers from a variety of backgrounds,
Macias said. He's seen retired flag officers serving
alongside military spouses, and college students alongside
“All share the common desire to
serve their country in some capacity,” he said.
volunteers work to maintain the Red Cross' 24-hour,
seven-day-a-week global communications network so troops and
their families can be connected in the event of a crisis,
such as an illness or death, or even a birth back home,
Mari Canizales of the American Red Cross provides information to a soldier at Fort Belvoir, Va. The Red Cross has a network of more than 1,500 offices around the world -- including sites in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait -- and thousands of volunteers. Courtesy photo
Family members simply contact a Red
Cross call center to connect with a military member, whether
stationed across the country or halfway around the world, he
said. The call center will take the information and quickly
track down the service member.
In the process, the call
center worker will speak to family members and medical
professionals to verify information and ensure the accuracy
“This enables the commander to make a
decision about emergency leave with verified information,”
Macias explained. “A service member can realistically be at
a loved one's bedside within 24 to 48 hours.”
turn, service members also can benefit from emergency
communications services, he said. If a deployed soldier
receives a phone call with news of a family member's serious
illness, for example, he can call the Red Cross to request
further information from an impartial source. A call center
worker will talk to family members and medical officials and
provide the service member with validated information so he
can make an informed decision about leave.|
pillar of the Red Cross' mission is care for ill and wounded
service members and veterans. Volunteers are in place to
support combat-wounded troops at nearly every stage of their
journey home, Macias said.
Volunteers stand ready at
Landstuhl, Germany, where nearly every combat-wounded troop
makes a stop before returning to the States.
give them a blanket, shaving kit, a toothbrush, whatever is
needed to make them more comfortable,” Macias explained.
Many of these blankets, he added, are hand-knit or hand-sewn
by caring people back home.
Ill or injured service
members who are flown to Joint Base Andrews Naval Air
Facility Washington in Maryland are met by Red Cross
volunteers, including a retired Vietnam veteran, who do
everything in their power to ensure a wounded warrior's
comfort. One troop, Macias recalled, asked a Red Cross
volunteer for a root beer float. “I don't know how she did
it, but this woman, who is in her late 80s, got him that
root beer float,” he said.
Red Cross volunteers also
are in nearly every military and Veterans Affairs hospital
nationwide, Macias said. Some volunteers push carts of DVDs,
candy and cookies down hospital halls. They ask each service
member if there's a particular need and, when identified,
they'll do everything in their power to fill it, he said.
“We've purchased [interactive game systems] to help with
morale and to assist with the physical recovery of a wounded
warrior if prescribed by a doctor, along with clothes and
personal items,” Macias said. The Red Cross also maintains a
library of books in hospitals for patients and visitors
alike, he added.
Also in hospitals, volunteers offer
therapy programs, including the popular pet therapy program,
Macias said. As an offshoot of that program, volunteers in
Kuwait found a German shepherd and now bring the dog to
greet troops as they process in or travel home. “Their faces
light up when they see him,” Macias said.
therapy programs include gardening, art and even
radio-controlled aircraft therapy, Macias said. A volunteer
at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, for example, helps
soldiers develop manual dexterity by building and flying
radio-controlled aircraft. The volunteer serves as an
inspiration, he added, since he has ALS, a progressive motor
neuron disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
The programs are tailored not to the whims of the
instructors, but to the needs and interests of the wounded
warriors, Macias explained. “It's a true partnership with
the medical team to find out what support is needed,” he
Also aimed at wounded warrior care, the Red
Cross offers the Casualty Travel Assistance Program, which
helps immediate family members travel to the bedside of a
wounded or ill loved one. The program provides travel
expenses and a stipend to cover meals and lodging for seven
days, Macias said.
The military also offers immediate
family members travel assistance, Macias pointed out. The
Red Cross program is designed not to replace, but to
supplement that support by helping additional family
members, such as a brother or sister or grandparent, travel
to a loved one's bedside.
The program also helps the
military to fill potential gaps for family member travel to
memorial services or funerals. In this case, the Red Cross
can provide immediate family members round-trip airfare and
a stipend to cover two days of lodging and meals.
Red Cross offers many other services to military families as
well, Macias said, including its well-known CPR training and
babysitter course, which many bases require young caregivers
to take if babysitting on a military installation.
“This is a great course for older brothers and sisters to
take too,” said Debbie Vanderbeek, senior associate with the
Red Cross' Service to the Armed Forces. Many military
children and teens are asked to take on additional childcare
responsibilities when a parent deploys, and the babysitting
course can help to ensure they're equipped to do so, she
Additionally, the Red Cross can use its
network of aid societies to help families who may find
themselves in a financial bind, Macias said. And if the
issue falls outside of the Red Cross' realm, volunteers will
refer them to someone who can help, he added.
address deployment challenges, Macias encourages families to
take advantage of the Red Cross' Coping With Deployments
class, which provides resilience strategies for military
families. The course can help adults identify issues in
themselves, significant others or in children. The class is
open to all loved ones, including significant others,
siblings, cousins, close friends and others, he added.
“We consider it psychological first aid,” he said.
Licensed mental health professionals conduct the course
at sites across the country, some on and others off base,
People can call the Red Cross for a course
schedule or can gather a group and request a course. If a
course isn't being offered in a specific location, the Red
Cross will fly in a mental health professional to conduct
one, Macias said, which can be helpful to families of the
Guard and Reserve. The Red Cross has more than 8,000
volunteers with mental health expertise, including more than
100 who specialize in military issues and family support, he
Macias also highlighted a new program for
families that's projected to roll out nationwide this
summer. The Coming Home Series is a series of classes for
service members returning from deployment and their
families. The five-module class teaches them how to manage
anger, reconnect with loved ones, build communication
skills, better support their children and identify and deal
with post-traumatic stress.
A team of mental health
professionals worked closely with the Defense Department to
develop the content, he noted.
Like Coping With
Deployments, this course will be offered on sites
nationwide, but also may include an online component at some
point, he said. However, “We believe the interaction with
others and face-to-face support is one of the strengths of
these programs,” Macias said.
To ensure privacy, all
courses are confidential, without self-identification or
roll calls, he said.
The big-picture goal, he
explained, is to offer families an effective and impartial
support system that's available to them at any time, night
“It's an honor to serve the men and women who
are serving us,” Macias said. “We want service members,
veterans and their families to know we're here as a 24/7
avenue of support.”
By Elaine Wilson|
American Forces Press Service
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