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News | Sept. 13, 2022

The American Red Cross; Helping service members and their families

By Airman 1st Class Olivia Bithell 633d ABW PA

     In 2021, the American Red Cross provided nearly 367,000 emergency communication services for approximately 95,000 service members and their families.

     Sarah Houck, Services to the Armed Forces branch of the Red Cross, senior regional program specialist has worked in the Virginia peninsula region, since November, 2020. This branch provides imperative resources for the Armed Forces overall success.  

     In addition to organizing blood drives, the Red Cross assists with social and health services, disaster management, and volunteer opportunities. Much of this branch revolves around conducting research to determine eligibility status of those in need and pairing them with helping agencies best suited for their emergency needs.

     “90% of the work done by the Red Cross, regardless of the branch, is done by volunteers and that is the goal,” Houck said.

     The Red Cross’ mission is to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. The number one service used by active duty service members is emergency messaging which allows families to be notified, in the event of an emergency, about the status of their service member, in the event of an emergency and vice versa.

     Emergency messages are critical for service members to be able to focus on their family during serious events, such as an illness, death or a joyous occasion like childbirth.

     The Red Cross independently verifies the emergency and provides the service member’s commander with the information needed to make the best decision about things such as emergency leave, transportation and financial assistance for the service member.

     “I know that emergencies are not what people always want to think about, but it’s better to be prepared just in case,” said Houck. “It saves you so much stress when you’re in the moment of the emergency.”

     According to Houck, the most challenging part of organizing emergency communication and verification is inadequate information about service members and their unit. For the Red Cross to be able to effectively aid service members and families it is critical for information provided to the Red Cross to be accurate and updated regularly.

     “You’re not going to think about how to find all this information in the moment [of an emergency], especially if your loved one is deployed, out in the field or unavailable,” Houck said. “Education regarding emergency services is one thing [the Red Cross] provides, in order to support and research what we can do to assist.”

     The Red Cross suggests that military families have a record on-hand of their service members legal name, rank, branch of service and date of birth as well as their unit’s name and installation they are stationed at. These key pieces of information make locating the service member faster and less stressful for the family. At the same time, it is imperative that service members also have their loved one’s information ready if they ever need to send an emergency message.

     Aside from emergency management, the Red Cross helps prepare service members, their families and veterans by equipping them with tools to deal with stressors associated with military life.

     “One way we prepare service members and their families is through our effective communication resiliency workshop for folks coming back from a deployment,” said Houck. “When you haven’t been [home] for a while and your only communication has been through video calls or text messages, it can be hard to rebalance how to communicate.”

     Workshops are run by licensed clinical mental health physicians or social workers, eager to teach mechanisms to help deal with separation stress and what to expect going into a deployment. They are confidential, free to attend and made readily available with online and in-person options across America and around military installations worldwide.

     The goal of these workshops is to aid with problems such as financial, housing or mental health that service members and their families might experience. The Red Cross partners with military aid societies and connects those in need of additional help with the national, local and government resources to assist.

     If you or your family need help call the emergency hotline, 1-877-272-7337. See what additional resources and volunteering opportunities the Red Cross has to offer on their website at https://www.redcross.org/

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