Not a day goes by when the American Red Cross doesn’t help someone in the military through its Service to Armed Forces (SAF) program, according to Mark Hooper, Station Manager on Fort Drum in New York.
The nine-year SAF veteran says that help can be as simple as pointing a person in the right direction, to assisting the service member with a major tragedy in their life. He tells of a soldier needing assistance flying his parents in from California to attend the funeral of his four-month-old child. “This is not something my office can directly fund,” Hooper explained, “but we do have a list of Red Cross chapters and non-profit agencies that can. So I put out the word to the parents’ local chapter and contacted a few other non-profits. With a combined effort of the Red Cross, Operation Home Front and USA Together, we were able to arrange transportation, food and lodging for the family to attend.”
Hooper finds it particularly rewarding working with the Ft. Drum Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), a battalion of wounded soldiers who are recuperating in order to return to active duty or transitioning back into the civilian world. “Usually, we assist people who are dealing with some sort of recent personal tragedy,” the SAF staffer related, “But in the case of the WTU, we are supporting wounded soldiers and their families with fun things that assist with recovery.” This can range from something as simple as funding a family night to supplying the Occupational Therapy or Traumatic Brain Injury clinic with items needed.
Every job has its challenges, and serving with the Red Cross SAF is no different. According to Hooper, it can be difficult moving to new assignments, deploying to a war zone, or even trying to track down an individual soldier. One of the toughest parts of his day is being fresh and sharp for every soldier who needs him. “It’s a challenge to have the proper balance of sympathy, empathy and compassion without letting it get to you,” he said, “You feel for the soldier who walks into your office and needs someone to just talk to, you feel for the family back home who has just experienced a death. Yet afterwards, you need to be able to put it aside and work on the next case. To me that’s the biggest challenge.”
Hooper’s road to the Red Cross is an interesting one. As he was about to graduate from college, his sister called and said she found a job they both would enjoy, working for the Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services department, now known as Service to the Armed Forces. He had already accepted a position in Garmish, Germany, but was intrigued. “Back then, I was like many others who thought of blood or disaster when the Red Cross was mentioned, not working with military personnel,” he said, “but I told my sister if she enjoyed it to let me know. About six months later, I received an email from her that said ‘This job is awesome! You need to apply!’ Mind you, she was deployed to Kosovo at the time. So I took her advice and nine years later I’m still doing it. In case she’s reading this, thanks sis!”
Growing up in a military family gave Mark a unique outlook on the hardships military personnel and their families face. “I grew up as an Army brat living in a multitude of places such as Ft. Riley KS, Anchorage AK, Saudi Arabia, Germany and even went to boarding school in London (one of the locations didn’t have a high school.),” he said, “This has given me a unique perspective. It’s also made this more than just a job, but a personal matter, because I have experienced it to some degree.”
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.