As a physician and, since 2003, as a member of Congress, Michael Burgess has had a professional relationship with the American Red Cross for many years. But it was as the father of an Air Force avionics technician that he came to appreciate the Red Cross on a personal level.
Congressman Michael Burgess
"My wife's father died when my son was stationed in New Mexico," he says. "He was able to get back home before we sent a message through the Red Cross, but to know the service was available and there for us was a big comfort."
Rep. Burgess was reminded of that incident recently when Matt Johnson, an aide in his Capitol Hill office, mentioned that he had used Red Cross emergency communications services while stationed in Missouri with the Marines. Wanting to honor the Red Cross for its assistance to military personnel and their families, Burgess introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives commending the emergency communications program and underscoring its value.
"When all other communication fails, the Red Cross is there," the resolution states. "Whether that service member is a reservist in two weeks of Arctic training in Alaska, a sailor on a ship in the Indian Ocean, or a member of an advanced team on patrol in Iraq, the Red Cross messaging system can communicate messages between family members when and where other civilian services cannot."
Familiar with Many Red Cross Services
The resolution also notes that in emergency situations, the Red Cross verifies the emergency and provides objective third-party information to commanding officers so they can make decisions about granting leave. As a physician in Texas prior to running for Congress, Burgess was asked many times to provide such information.
"When I was a physician, from time to time the Red Cross would need me to write a letter or make a phone call to help someone in the military get back home," he says. "The Red Cross always performed in these situations. I don't recall that there was ever a situation where the Red Cross was not able to get a service member back to where he or she was needed."
Burgess also had contact with the Red Cross because of its role as a collector and distributor of blood products.
"When I would have a patient who was exposed to chicken pox, back in the old days the next step was to give them a big shot of varicella zoster immune globulin, and the only place to get it was through the Red Cross," he says. "Whether it was a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday morning, the Red Cross always came through."
Since coming to Congress, Burgess has become more familiar with other aspects of the American Red Cross, particularly its domestic and international disaster response services.
"Right after the tsunami hit a few years ago, the folks at the Chisholm Trail Chapter in Fort Worth put together a press conference in short order, and I went on television with then-chairman Joe Barton of the Energy and Commerce Committee to encourage people to send checks to the Red Cross to get help to the victims overseas," he says. "When Katrina hit, the Red Cross put up a shelter right next to my district office, and volunteers came over and staffed it all day and night."
A True 'Red Crosser'
The resolution Burgess introduced, H. Res. 937, has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where it awaits consideration. The resolution's fate is uncertain, but its significance for the American Red Cross is not.
"This resolution makes our people who provide emergency communications feel honored," says Mary Elcano, acting president of the American Red Cross. "Michael Burgess is a true 'Red Crosser,' in our language."
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross provides relief to victims of disasters at home and abroad, collects and distributes nearly half of the nation's blood supply, teaches lifesaving skills, and supports military members and families. The American Red Cross, a charity and not a government agency, depends on voluntary contributions of time, money and blood to perform its humanitarian mission.