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'A Privilege to Serve': Red Cross Works Worldwide to Support U.S. Armed Forces
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Leslie A. Smith
May 15, 2009

Armed Forces Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate and thank the many men and women who serve our country. The Red Cross also wants to take this occasion to spotlight those whose full-time occupation is to support our service members.

Volunteers and employees with Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) work on 58 military installations around the world, including Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Although it is hard work, it is more than just a job.

Butch Brown works as the senior station manager in Stuttgart, Germany, and as he puts it, “These women and men serve our country and stand for freedom around the world. What person would not consider it a privilege to serve, work with and help them and their families?”

Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, the Red Cross quickly sends emergency communications to deployed service members on behalf of their family. In this age of cell phones and emails, one might wonder why the Red Cross is needed to provide this service. The key is that the Red Cross is the only agency charged with providing verified information about family situations back home, which assists active duty members and the command in making leave decisions.

Being the message bearer can be tough, particularly when the news is bad. However, SAF workers understand the importance of those communications.

“I was a military member for 20 years and personally saw the value of the Red Cross message service from Vietnam through the Gulf War. I always saw the messages as a positive thing even though the content was not always good news. It at least provided the service member a connection with their family in a time of crisis or happiness,” said Tom Smith, the Red Cross team leader in Afghanistan.

SAF staff also provide a listening ear and a morale boost to service members.

“Service members trust us and know they can speak freely and confidentially to Red Cross staff. On deployments, we can provide the information needed to help a soldier get emergency leave, serve them home-baked bread and coffee, or just listen if they need to talk,” said Phyllis Marvin, station manager in Aviano, Italy.

Peter Buttner
Peter Buttner

Many SAF workers have strong ties to the military, having served themselves or come from a military family, so they have a special insight into the difficulties of deployment.

Peter Buttner is on his fourth deployment with SAF and is currently the team leader in Tikrit, Iraq. He spent 27 years in the military, so he has seen the impact of the Red Cross from both sides.

“Knowing service members were being taken care of made life a little easier to deal with and to keep the others focused on their mission,” said Buttner, referring to his military experience. “Once I knew they were in the hands of the Red Cross, I had the confidence they were going to make it through the crisis with their families.”

Now in his role with SAF, Buttner continues to spread the word about the Red Cross: “I tell people everywhere I go, ‘We’re here when you need us most!’—even if it’s just giving them a smile and a vote of confidence that everything will be alright.”

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.

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