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For Service to the Armed Forces Staff, a Journey Begins on Independence Day
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Leslie A. Smith
July 2, 2009

Instead of the usual picnics and fireworks, this year some people at the American Red Cross will spend the 4th of July weekend in a very different way: preparing to deploy to Kuwait, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Eighteen Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) team members are going to Ft. Benning, Georgia to begin processing for their impending four-month deployments. For some, this is their first deployment; for others, their second, third, or even twelfth.   

A Sense of Purpose
No matter their level of experience, these SAF workers know they have a unique and indispensable job. The Red Cross is the only agency charged with providing verified emergency communications to deployed servicemembers on behalf of their family, which assists active duty members and the command in making leave decisions.

Andrew Chappelle, the youngest SAF member in the group, is headed to Baghdad, Iraq.
Andrew Chappelle, the youngest SAF member in the group, is headed to Baghdad, Iraq.

Put simply, SAF workers are the connection to home when a connection is needed the most. Whether they bring the joyful announcement of a baby’s birth or urgent news about the illness of a loved one, SAF is on the front lines to make sure the servicemember knows what’s happening.

The opportunity to serve and to do something meaningful calls many of them to this job. For Elizabeth Schirk, her path began as a nurse in the United Kingdom and eventually led to the United States, where she began to volunteer with the American Red Cross. She was drawn to the SAF mission after learning about Clara Barton, and is now beginning her fifth deployment.   

For some of the new team members, the appeal lies in the combination of humanitarian service and adventure. Along with the the excitement and nervousness that comes with any first day of work, they also have the extra challenge of living in a very different environment, immersed in military culture. Luckily, each team also has its experienced members that can help them anticipate and adapt to the challenges they face.

These 18 are beginning a journey that many others have shared, continuing the long and proud history of the Red Cross serving America’s military and their families.

Living Your Work
You might think that after months of living in tough conditions—and working 130 days in a row—SAF staff would be clamoring to get back home. But the connections they build while on deployment, both with teammates and servicemembers, can make leaving difficult.

“You always feel like you’re leaving your family,” said Schirk, who is assigned to Tikrit, Iraq.

Deborah Welch (in green) spent 20 years in the Army and is now deploying to Kuwait with SAF.
Deborah Welch (in green) spent 20 years in the Army and is now deploying to Kuwait with SAF.

Bob Marble, headed to Baghdad for the second time in less than a year, said, “It’s almost like going back home.” He enjoyed every day on his last deployment, telling a teammate in Iraq, “I’m going to cherish every day we’re here.” Knowing that his work is making a difference to servicemembers and their families makes every day one to embrace, and not just cross off the calendar.  

In addition to handling vital emergency messages, Red Cross staff also lift spirits by providing canteen services in their offices—some with video and book libraries—and distributing comfort kits, calling cards and quality of life items. Perhaps most imporantly, they provide a friendly face and a listening ear.   

“The care and concern that SAF staff have for the individuals is often the most important thing. It’s the human touch—reminding them that the United States cares about them and that they are important,” said Sherri Brown, senior vice president of SAF.

Iggy Perillo is beginning her first deployment, but she already knows that building those relationships and being available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—“living your work,” as she puts it—is an important part of the job. For most, this is also the best part of the job. Getting stopped by a soldier for no reason but to be told “I appreciate what you do” makes “living your work” more than worth it.  

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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