Partnership with America's Military Members

More Than 100 Years of Service

The American Red Cross remains a key partner with the members of United States armed forces, its veterans and their families. Our partnership began when Clara Barton led a group of nurses to care for American soldiers on the battlefields of the Spanish-American War. Today, from deploying staff to serve alongside military personnel in the Middle East to supporting veterans and families back home, the Red Cross’ support of America’s military is as strong as ever.

The Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American War of 1898 was the first time the American Red Cross provided services to members of the American armed forces at war. When the United States declared war on Spain, Red Cross President Clara Barton – who was 76 years old at the time – traveled to hospitals recruiting nurses to work for the Army at medical camps in Florida and Cuba. Clara Barton and the Red Cross nurses then went to Cuba to provide nursing care, medical supplies, food and other necessities to American service members. The Red Cross also provided a non-medical service for the armed forces by handling inquiries from families.

These humanitarian efforts to relieve suffering did not go unnoticed. In 1900, the U.S. Congress granted the Red Cross our first charter. In 1905 the Red Cross was chartered a second time to "provide volunteer aid in time of war to the sick and wounded of the armed forces, in accordance with the spirit and conditions of the conference of Geneva...[and] to act in matters of voluntary relief and in accordance with the military authorities as a medium of communication between the people of the United States and the armed forces of the United States..."

World War I

During World War I, Red Cross employees and volunteers provided medical and recreational services for the military at home and abroad and established a Home Service Program to help military families. 18,000 Red Cross nurses provided much of the medical care for the American military during World War I, and 4,800 Red Cross ambulance drivers provided first aid on the front lines. The organization also pioneered the development of psychiatric nursing programs at veterans hospitals, made artificial limbs and helped rehabilitate amputees and blinded veterans. During World War I, 296 American Red Cross nurses and 127 American Red Cross ambulance drivers died in service to humanity.

World War II

In World War II, more than 104,000 nurses recruited by the American Red Cross served in military hospitals at home and overseas. Red Cross employees and volunteers provided emergency message services. Twenty-seven million Red Cross packages were distributed to American and Allied prisoners of war, and staff and volunteers helped out in rest and recreation areas in the field and at military hospitals, hospital ships and trains. The Red Cross blood donor project added a new dimension to Red Cross services and collected 13.3 million units of blood for American servicemen. 78 Red Cross workers died while serving overseas during World War II.

Korean Conflict

During the Korean Conflict, Red Cross services grew. The blood program for the military was expanded. The emergency mobile recreation service served not only American troops, but all United Nations forces. Red Cross provided emergency communications from family members, stationery so wounded service members could write home and a “first call home” program for the wounded. When the 1953 armistice was signed, the American and Korean Red Cross societies ensured the transfer of nearly 90,000 prisoners of war. Two Red Cross workers gave their lives in service during the Korean conflict.

Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO)

The Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) program began in France, French Morocco and the United Kingdom at the request of the U.S. Air Force during the early 1950s. American Red Cross volunteers, augmented by local national volunteers, operated Red Cross clubs to promote better understanding between the military personnel of the United States and the citizens of the host nations through joint activities. Following the armistice in Korea, the Red Cross continued its clubmobile recreation program. At its peak, 31 clubmobiles staffed by 8-10 “SRAO girls” each averaged 20,000 miles a month reaching over 200,000 men in remote areas of the country.


In 1962, the Red Cross sent its first field staff to Vietnam to assist the growing number of service members at various bases and hospitals. At the height of its involvement, 480 American Red Cross field directors, hospital personnel and recreation workers (“Donut Dollies”) served throughout Southeast Asia. Red Cross workers brought recreation to an average of 280,500 service members each month. They logged more than 2 million miles in jeeps, trucks and helicopters during the program's seven year history. Five Red Cross staff members gave their lives and many others were injured as they helped service members in Vietnam.

Operation Desert Shield/Storm

Five days after the launch of Operation Desert Shield/Storm in August 1990, the first American Red Cross workers arrived in the Persian Gulf region. Over the next year a total of 158 American Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services staff worked and lived with the troops, facing the same dangers of war. Red Cross staff carried 215,000 emergency messages to and from the troops and provided support and comfort. Back home, American Red Cross employees and volunteers aided more than 4,700 service members and their families with $1.72 million in emergency financial assistance and other services. In fulfilling their duties in the Persian Gulf area, seven American Red Cross workers received the Bronze Star for meritorious service.

International Conflicts

Between 1989 and 2003 Red Cross staff were also on the ground with American troops on combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping missions in Panama, Turkey, the Philippines, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, Cuba, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Hungary, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo. Although the Red Cross’ primary mission was emergency communications, Red Cross staff supported American service members and allied forces with a safe place to gather for games, phone calls home, birthday and holiday parties, and other recreational opportunities.

Operation Enduring Freedom

For Operation Enduring Freedom, the first Red Cross staff members arrived in Uzbekistan on Christmas Day 2001 to serve all U.S. troops in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan. After moving to Afghanistan, staff were consolidated into an office on Bagram AB in August of 2003 where the Red Cross still serves today. The staff handled almost 59,000 emergency messages from December 2002 through July 2011. The office at Bagram also runs a canteen with video and book libraries. 73 staff members, some of whom deployed more than once, supported this operation through July 2011.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Red Cross staff arrived in Kuwait and Iraq in early 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 8 years, 68 staff members deployed to Balad, 80 to Baghdad, 59 to Tikrit and 66 to Kuwait supporting the U.S. military in the largest Red Cross deployment since Operation Desert Shield/Storm. Our staff members lived and worked in the same environment and conditions as the U.S. military. They handled more than 295,000 emergency messages, distributed more than 200,000 comfort kits, 72,000 calling cards, 100,000 blank greeting cards, 56,000 boxes of personal care items (such as toothpaste, soap, etc.), and provided canteen services in their offices in Kuwait and Iraq. In August 2011, the Red Cross consolidated operations for Iraq and other areas in the Middle East into its office in Kuwait. At the invitation of the U.S. Navy, we opened an office in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa in September 2011.

Well into its second century, the Red Cross has always heeded the call when American service people, military families and veterans are in need. Our role may change, but our commitment will never waver. Join us and help ease the stress on the men and women who sacrifice so much for our country.