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American Red Cross helps Navy petty officer fly back home to meet his newborn daughter

By Michael Vallejo, American Red Cross communications volunteer

On Aug. 31, 2012, Vivian Santos’ water broke almost a month ahead of schedule with her husband, Petty Officer (PO) Alexander Santos, still stationed hundreds of miles away.

“I had to give birth early,” said Santos. “I was 35 weeks pregnant, and I broke my water. I called him right away and told him, ‘You have to ask your chief to come home; it’s an emergency.’”

PO Santos, 35, was stationed in Gulfport, Miss. He had gotten a letter from his wife’s doctor stating she was scheduled to give birth Sept. 29 for him to show his chief and commander in the hopes that he would be allowed to fly back for the birth. He hadn’t heard from them by the time his wife’s water broke, and with airports being closed because of Hurricane Isaac, it seemed almost impossible to be able to fly back to see his newly born child.

That is when his wife decided to contact LtCol Tony Colmenares USMC (Ret), Director of International Services and Service to the Armed Forces of the American Red Cross South Florida Region, whom she had met at a pre-deployment seminar for the wives and family of the Navy. Colmenares attended on behalf of the Red Cross to offer assistance for anyone that might need it.

Colmenares first helped Mrs. Santos when Tropical Storm Isaac approached South Florida. He reached out to the Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) and Naval Mobile Construction Battalion-14 (NMCB-14) to get support for Santos. They helped by putting up hurricane shutters at her home.

When her water broke, and since both the Santos’s families are in Manila, Philippines, Mrs. Santos again called Colmenares who advised her to ask a friend to take her to Plantation Hospital where he would then meet her. On Sept. 1st, the day after Santos’ daughter was born, Colmenares, through the Red Cross emergency communication services, contacted PO Santos’ command to encourage them to give him permission to come home.

The emergency communications services of the Red Cross helps military personnel get in touch with their families following the death or serious illness of an immediate family member, the birth of a service member’s child or grandchild or when a family faces other emergencies.

Within 24 hours after the Red Cross sent its emergency communication to PO Santos’ commander, he was on a plane to see his wife and his newborn daughter, Megan.

“I was going to cry but my stitches hurt,” said Mrs. Santos, describing her feeling of joy when she saw her husband appear at the hospital. “He’s tried to surprise me before but this time he did; everybody knew except for me.”

After spending time with his wife and newborn daughter, Mr. Santos flew back to his station and five days later was flown with his Navy command to Afghanistan. According to Mrs. Santos, her husband will be home in approximately 6 months.

Mrs. Santos said she is extremely grateful to the Red Cross, NOCS and NMCB and hopes to one day volunteer for the Red Cross.

“I want to thank them all with all my heart because I don’t think my husband would’ve been able to come home without their help,” she said.