When Christine Meloy’s grandmother died, she urgently needed to contact her daughter, who is on Army Reserve duty in Iraq. But instead of placing a phone call in the Middle East, she made a local call—to the Summit County Chapter of the American Red Cross, in Akron, Ohio.
Within hours, a message with the verification of the death of her great grandmother was delivered to her daughter, SPC. Katherine Duff, an emergency medical technician serving with the 399th Combat Support Hospital located at Camp Speicher, Tikrit, Iraq.
“Katie was on the phone immediately,” Meloy says. “The Red Cross had called the hospital where her great grandmother had died before locating her. They also brought Katie’s case to the attention of her commanding officer for permission to receive emergency leave. ”
A Worldwide Network of Service
Michelle Mays, Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Station Manager at Eisenhower Army Medical Center, who is currently deployed as team leader with the Red Cross in Balad, Iraq, receives dozens of requests like Christine Meloy’s every day.
Michelle Mays relays a message at her station in Balad, Iraq.
(Photo Credit: Greta Schmitt/American Red Cross)
“We get messages from every corner of America—messages with birth announcements, about the death or serious illness of a family member,” says Mays, whose team of four members is stationed in Balad, Iraq.
As a rule, Red Cross emergency communication messages are requested for all service members, whether active duty, Guard, or Reserve, who may need emergency leave. The purpose of the message is to provide the service member’s commanders with verified information to assist the command in making a qualified leave decision.
In addition to verifying information and forwarding emergency communication messages , the Red Cross collaborates with the military aid societies to provide access to financial assistance when needed for emergency travel, the burial of a loved one, or for basic maintenance which could include food purchases and a mortgage or rent payment. The Red Cross also provides information and referral services, family support groups in participating chapters, and assistance with benefits claims to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
These services are made available through a network of more than 13,000 employees and volunteers in Red Cross chapters throughout the United States and on military installations worldwide. Michelle Mays is one of 12 members of the SAF team deployed to Iraq to facilitate emergency communications between members of the United States Armed Forces and their families. Last year, the Red Cross helped transmit more than 650,000 emergency messages to military personnel and their family members all over the world.
‘Get to Know Us Before You Need Us’
Unlike families of active duty personnel, who often live on or near military bases, families of National Guard and Reserve members typically live in civilian communities and do not have access to the resources available on military installations.
Since 2000, the Red Cross has been reaching out to members of the National Guard and the Reserves through the “Get to Know Us Before You Need Us” Program. The purpose of the program is to educate Guard and Reserve members about the services the Red Cross provides as well as information and referrals to other services available to military member’s and their families.
"I knew within about an hour that my uncle had died," First Lt. Phillip Patti said after Red Cross reached him with news of his uncle’s death.
(Photo credit: Personal collection of Phillip Patti)
To maximize their outreach efforts, Red Cross staff members use a variety of approaches, such as attending “family days” at National Guard armories, delivering cards and cookies to Reserve centers, and providing deploying units with “departure kits” containing toiletries, sunscreen, and insect repellant. Red Cross chapters also provide pre-deployment briefings to National Guard and Reserve units to inform them of the services available to them.
Thanks to information received at a “Get to Know Us Before You Need Us,” briefing Yvonne Patti, whose brother Phillip is serving with the National Guard in Kosovo, Serbia, knew exactly what to do when her uncle died of a brain tumor.
“My uncle was a father figure to both of us, and I wanted to contact Phillip urgently,” she says. “With the help of the Red Cross, Phillip was on the phone within a couple of hours.”
Accessing Red Cross Assistance
Access to Red Cross emergency communications services for military members and their families is available as follows:
- Active duty service members stationed in the United States and their immediate family members may call Service to the Armed Forces Centers or SAF Centers for help 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The toll-free telephone number is 877-272-7337.
- Other family members who do not reside in the service member’s household, members of the National Guard and Reserves, retirees, and civilians may access Red Cross services through their local Red Cross chapter, which is listed in local telephone books and at http://www.redcross.org/where/where.html.
- Overseas personnel stationed on military installations should call base or installation operators or the on-base Red Cross office.
- At overseas deployment sites, contact the American Red Cross teams at Tikrit, Balad or Baghdad, Iraq, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, or Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
The American Red Cross is not a government agency. We rely on the assistance of caring supporters like you to deliver our critical services. You can support U.S. military members and their families through the American Red Cross as we provide assistance and comfort. Your gift will support the nationally coordinated Red Cross services provided to military families across the country and to American service men and women located throughout the world. Please make a financial donation to Armed Forces Emergency Services by calling 1-800-RED CROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions may be sent to the American Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services, P.O. Box 91820, Washington, DC 20090. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.