Staff Voices: The American Red Cross - Supporting America's Military Families

Staff Voices: The American Red Cross - Supporting America's Military Families

I will never forget the moment on March 8, 2006 when I was sitting in my B-Hut (Barracks Hut) in Afghanistan and opened an e-mail from my brother informing me that my mother had just experienced a medical emergency and was in the hospital in critical condition.  I was beside myself!  I was halfway around the world from my family, in a deployed location feeling very lonely, overwhelmed, and unable to help.  I honestly did not know where to start or what to do.  Thankfully, my First Sergeant told me that he was going to contact the American Red Cross for assistance.

I have known about the Red Cross since I was a young child.  I remember hearing about my family members donating blood during blood drives and I even began to donate blood myself when I was in high school. However, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized the Red Cross did much more than collect and process blood.  I knew that the Red Cross assisted service members with notifications from family and friends, but it wasn’t until my own family crisis during my deployment that I learned more about their services for service members and their families.

Within hours I was on a military aircraft with several other service members who were on emergency leave that took us to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.  Once we arrived at Al Udeid we had difficulty getting on a timely military flight back to the States.  During our wait, which felt like a lifetime, we were informed that the Red Cross utilized their resources to purchase us a civilian flight out of Doha International Airport so that we could make it home to be with our loved ones.  It was a last-minute international flight that I would not have been able to afford myself.  I was both amazed and grateful! Over the past six years I have shared this story many times because I was, and still am, very grateful for the service the Red Cross provided.  I was able to make it home to be with my mother (who, by the way, is doing very well) and to help provide emotional support to my other family members.

This is just one way the American Red Cross has helped, and can help, service members and their families.  Today we will look at how the Red Cross is supporting America’s military families with some Q&A with representatives (Dr. Marjorie Kukor, Deborah Vanderbeek, Dorothy Baume, Lauren Lobrano and Lynn Crabb) from the American Red Cross.

What is the overall mission of the American Red Cross?

The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.The mission of Service to the Armed Forces is to provide humanitarian support to Service Members, Veterans, and their families around the clock, around the globe, under a trusted symbol.

How does the American Red Cross help link military families during an emergency?

If a military family has an emergency or urgent need such as a death or serious illness of an immediate family member, as well as the good news of the birth of the service member’s child or grandchild, they contact the Emergency Communication center at 877-272-7337.The American Red Cross engages its network of the Emergency Communications Center and offices across the United States and around the world to relay urgent messages 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to Service Members and their command, anywhere in the world, including to ships at sea, embassies and remote locations.  Our messages contain accurate, factual, complete and verified descriptions of the emergency to assist the service member and command in making an informed leave decision.

When a family is in a disaster, it is often difficult to stay in touch with loved ones. The American Red Cross Safe and Well website is a central location for people in disaster areas in the United States to register their current status, and for their loved ones to access that information. It helps provide displaced families with relief and comfort during a stressful time.

What types of referral services are available for military families through the American Red Cross?

Red Cross offices are in communities throughout the United States and on installations around the world. Being in communities and on installations allows us to know our community and its resources.  Red Cross works with families to identify their needs and refer them to national level resources such as Military One Source, the Veterans Administration, the Defense Centers of Excellence, military programs and services; and to organizations and agencies in their community.  This could be to faith-based communities, programs available through local and state governments, food pantries/clothes closets, utility share program, veterans’ organizations and other community based programs.

What deployment services does the American Red Cross have for service members and their families?

Red Cross staff members serve our military, wherever they are around the world, across the United States, on installations overseas and at deployment sites, supporting our 24-hour emergency communication services and providing a touch of home.  On select forward deployment sites, Red Cross equips and operates internet cafes and lounges where Service Members can relax and connect with home.

The Red Cross provides the Coping with Deployment Course to help families respond to the challenges that they may encounter throughout the deployment cycle.  It also explains how to provide psychological first aid to others experiencing stressful feelings or events.  Reconnection Workshops is a series of individual or small group discussions that enhance the likelihood of positive reconnections among family members and successful reengagement of service members into civilian life.   These are available to service members, veterans, and their families in their local community.

Providing information about programs, services, and benefits available to support a family is critical during deployments.  Red Cross can help a family to connect with national and local agencies for support.

What types of financial service does the American Red Cross offer to military members and their families?

Through our partnership with the military aid societies, the American Red Cross connects service members, retirees, and their families to the military aid societies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from wherever the service member and their family is located.  This connects them with assistance for emergency travel, rent, food, utilities, and other expenses.

The American Red Cross also provides Disaster Assistance to anyone who has lost their home and belongings due to a natural disaster, such as a fire, flood, hurricane, or tornadoes, providing safe shelter, hot meals, essential relief supplies, emotional support, and health services like first aid.

What service does the American Red Cross have that are specifically for veterans?

Red Cross volunteers support veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service at VA medical facilities, providing programs and services to offer comfort and support for rehabilitation services.Information and Referral services are designed to provide continuing support for the active, reserve, National Guard members, and families, both during and after their active duty service.

In addition to these services, the American Red Cross has a representative at the Department of Veterans Affairs Board of Veterans’ Appeals in Washington DC to assist and represent veterans in the appeals process.

Can you tell us about our program Holiday Mail for Heroes and how individuals can get involved?

Over the last five years, the Holiday Mail for Heroes program has collected more than 4 million cards filled with messages of gratitude, encouragement, and holiday greetings from the American public for members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Through our partnership with Pitney Bowes we collect, screen, sort, and distribute holiday cards to American soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, Veterans, and military families in communities nationwide and on military installations around the world.

There are several ways to be part of the Holiday Mail for Heroes program. In addition to sending cards on your own, you may want to start making plans to host card signing parties or card making parties.  For card guidelines and other information,

This year's program begins on Monday, October 1st when the national post office box opens to the public. All cards must be postmarked no later than Friday, December 7th. Any cards received after this date cannot be guaranteed delivery before December 31, 2012.

All holiday greetings should be addressed and sent to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

How do service members, veterans and their families contact the American Red Cross for assistance?

To initiate Red Cross emergency communications, call 877-272-7337, 24 hours a day/365 days a year.

For the Reconnection Workshops, email all other programs and services, contact your local office. For assistance in locating your local office, go to and enter your zip code.

To find out more about the American Red Cross and how it supports American Military Families please go to

I was surprised as I shared my plans to blog about the Red Cross, of how many of my former military colleagues at the CDP had similar stories of Red Cross assistance.  The Red Cross does so much for our service members and their families and rarely boasts about their accomplishments.  The CDP is proud of our association with the Red Cross and our continuing education courses with them in association with Penn State Hershey College of Medicine.  For more information on these courses please go to: and click on the program Meeting the Needs of Returning Service Members.