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Bound for Iraq, but Taking Memories of Home
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Leslie A. Smith
November 5, 2007

A stuffed animal, a photo album of friends and family, a favorite type of coffee—these are the kinds of things that help impart a sense of security and familiarity in a strange new environment. For six American Red Cross employees who will soon be deployed to Iraq, they are reminders of home.

Reserve Corps members receive training at Red Cross National Headquarters prior to deployment. From left are Michael Manske, Debby Hutton, Virginia Wright-Peterson, Barbara Jean Woods, Brittany Reynolds and Nicole Bishop.
Reserve Corps members receive training at Red Cross National Headquarters prior to deployment. From left are Michael Manske, Debby Hutton, Virginia Wright-Peterson, Barbara Jean Woods, Brittany Reynolds and Nicole Bishop.
(Photo: American Red Cross)

The six are members of the Service to Armed Forces (SAF) Reserve Corps, and they are going to Iraq to help U.S. military personnel stay connected with their families. As part of their five-month deployment, the Reserve Corps will verify and send emergency messages (including birth announcements and notifications of illness or death) from family members back home to men and women serving in the armed forces. Often, these messages result in emergency leave being granted, allowing a service member to return home to assist and support his or her family.

The SAF Reserve Corps plays a crucial role in the Red Cross mission to support the men and women of the U.S. military. They fill temporary vacancies in mobile staff positions at military installations worldwide. They work 10-to-12-hour shifts, seven days a week—a lifestyle that team member Nicole Bishop good-naturedly describes as “working and sleeping, working and sleeping.”

Providing an Essential Link

From recent college graduates to long-time employees with the Red Cross, the SAF Reserve Corps attracts people of all ages and backgrounds. The newest group of reserve members is no different. Hailing from all parts of the United States, they share a common mission—to provide an essential link between service members and their families.

“I know how important they are because I’ve been on all ends of those messages,” says Debby Hutton, a member of the Reserve Corps team. Hutton has handled emergency messages as a Red Cross volunteer and as an employee, including a stint in Vicenza, Italy, where she lived for four years while married to a serviceman. Hutton was even the subject of an emergency message—when she became seriously ill on a visit to the United States, the Red Cross notified her husband in Vicenza, who was then able to travel to see her at the hospital.

Family and friends of reserve members are usually apprehensive about them living in a conflict area. Hutton laughingly recounts the reaction of her daughter, a first-year college student, when she heard her mother was going to Iraq. “You’re taking this empty-nest syndrome a little bit to the extreme, aren’t you?” she asked.

‘A Job You End Up Loving’

After undergoing an interview process and extensive medical and security clearances, Reserve Corps members spend three weeks training at Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. After leaving Washington, the team travels to Fort Benning, Ga., where they are issued uniforms, equipment, and identification and receive additional immunizations. There, they are briefed on security issues and trained in various disciplines, including public relations and CPR. They are then deployed to their military assignments.

Despite the challenges ahead, the six Reserve Corps members headed to Iraq know they are making a difference in the lives of service members and their families. As Michael Manske, a former U.S. soldier who is part of the team being deployed to Iraq, puts it, “It’s a job you end up loving.”

To learn more about the Service to the Armed Forces Reserve Program, call Roger Kingsley at (202) 303-8522 or Carolyn Seldon at (202) 303-8518.

The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.

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