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Armed Forces Emergency Services: An American Red Cross Caseworker
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Deborah MacSwain
August 18, 2006

American Red Cross caseworkers and their predecessors have been sending emergency messages on behalf of United States servicemen and women since World War I.

“Incoming: Military authorities inform family serviceman well on active duty not -- repeat -- not the man they saw in newsreel…

Outgoing: Message delivered family much relieved…mother improving.”

“Incoming: Serviceman requests health and welfare wife… no mail three months…. Outgoing: Wife states she is well… working…. stopped writing when serviceman stopped.”

Messages sent during World War II
chronicles in the book:
”American Red Cross, A History”
by Foster Rhea Dulles

“A young woman called our office at Ft. Carson, Colorado, and announced she was having a baby in a telephone booth. She was new to the area, did not know what Army unit her husband was in, had no phone in her apartment, had walked to the closest pay phone and wanted to know if we could find her husband.

Through a variety of calls, the serviceman was located and an ambulance arranged to take the woman to the hospital – where she did have a healthy baby boy. She was so grateful for (us) finding her husband she called from the delivery room to say she would become a Red Cross volunteer!”

Story told by a retired
Red Cross caseworker, 1988

RoseMary Jurney, Siouxland Area Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services (Photo Credit: American Red Cross)
RoseMary Jurney, Siouxland Area Chapter
Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services
(Photo Credit: American Red Cross)

“A long time ago at Walter Reed Army Hospital I saw these very elegant women—in gray uniforms. I asked, ‘who are these women?’ I was told those are gray ladies, and I was given a great introduction to their work. That’s what I want to be—it is the epitome of how I see the Red Cross.”

RoseMary Jurney on becoming
a Red Cross caseworker

Like other historic Red Cross programs, the credit for this very unique activity really belongs to its founder Clara Barton and other volunteers who ministered to the wounded and wrote letters home for soldiers during the Civil War.

Today, Red Cross caseworkers working within the Armed Forces Emergency Services (AFES) department utilize modern technology to carry on the tradition of verifying and transmitting emergency messages between active duty, Reserve and National Guard members serving and living at worldwide locations and their families. There is no other organization in the world that provides this service. Since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Red Cross has sent more than 2 million messages around the world on behalf of the Armed Forces

While technology helps expedite messages that—during World Wars I and II, Korea and Viet Nam—once took days or even weeks to be delivered, it is the human contact with the Red Cross caseworker that is the true heart of the program.

It is not glamorous work. Most messages concern the death, serious illness or injury of a loved one. The happiest messages usually concern the birth of a baby. No matter what the emergency, Red Cross caseworkers care. One such woman is RoseMary Jurney of the Siouxland Area Chapter based in Sioux City, Iowa.

“Jurney is everything to the chapter,” said Chapter Emergency Service Director Bob Bartling. “She stepped up to take the lead on all emergency messaging and the ‘Get To Know Us Before You Need Us’ program for local Reserve and National Guard members and their families.”

This may not be unusual for some, but Jurney is a volunteer. She has a cell phone that she keeps on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year. On the few occasions she and her husband take a trip, she has trained others to do the work. She has saved the Sioux City Chapter money and she really is, as Bartling puts it, “the expert.”

Jurney started her career as a Red Cross volunteer in Wurzburg, Germany, in 1976 where her husband, an Army doctor, was stationed. While there, she received a Red Cross message that her father had emergency brain surgery due to a stroke.

“The caseworkers kept me updated on my fathers condition—they were so awesome that the only way I could pay the Red Cross back was to become a hospital volunteer and caseworker,” Jurney explained.

For thirty years, Jurney has “paid back” the assistance she received by helping others. There are a lot of memories and experiences packed away in those years. One of Jurney’s first cases involved responding to a Congressman who had received a request from a soldier’s mother.

“The mother in New Jersey heard her son had been injured, and she wanted to know what had happened,” she said. “I talked with the doctor and the very embarrassed son who was very happy with the care he was receiving—message sent.”

“Another time, when I was new at volunteering, I was asked to open the office mail. Just as I was pulling out magazines that someone sent, the Chaplain walked in – the magazines were of the ‘girly type’—and I was very embarrassed. Fortunately, he had the generosity to laugh.”

The occasional humorous memories are few. Most are serious, heart-wrenching and constant reminders of why she is acutely dedicated to her work.

“An 18-year-old was medevaced to Letterman Army Hospital after a jeep accident at Ft. Ord,” she said explaining that he had a closed-head injury. The Army notified his family in Kentucky, and the Red Cross helped them travel to Letterman to be with their son, who was in a semi-coma. “I spent time with the family and his mother told me of his beautiful blue eyes. Once he fluttered them and, yes, they were beautiful. While he was transferred to a VA hospital in Kentucky, his mother kept in contact with me over the years—he was so appreciative of what we had done. A few years ago she wrote to say he had died—I’ll never forget him.”

Jurney is not only the expert in charge of the Siouxland Area Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services; she is also a mother with a son in the military.

“When he got his first orders for Iraq, I was upset, as every mother would be,” Jurney recalled. “I called him to say I was going to volunteer to go to Baghdad and he told me: ‘Mom, you can’t go to war with me’.”

In addition to Red Cross messages, Jurney goes above and beyond her duties; she visits returned veterans that are hospitalized locally and stays in contact with families to see how they are doing, asking if there is anything further Red Cross do. She has attended the funerals of two soldiers.

Over the years she has received random thank you notes, but her true motivation for work can be summed up in her own words: “The way I was brought up I really do believe we are our brothers’ keepers. This is a very small way that I can make somebody’s life better—make sorrow easier”.

To learn more about Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services, visit “Military Members and Families” on Redcross.org or contact your local Red Cross chapter.

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