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 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..."
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.