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Easing the Pains of War

Beyond the maze of T-Walls—concrete barriers designed to protect—lies a little oasis in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

It is an office, but no ordinary office. It has a deck and a screened-in porch. Palm trees dot the backyard, and a miniature golf course breaks up the visual expanse of sand. And in this country that has been gripped by war for the last seven years, smiling faces wait inside.

Just as it has been doing for more than a century, the American Red Cross provides vital services to U.S. service members and their families, including in conflict zones. Currently, the American Red Cross has offices at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait; Balad and Baghdad in Iraq; and at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

In addition to their primary responsibility of handling emergency communications, Red Cross staff provide a homey, relaxed atmosphere in their Middle East offices. Ergo the miniature golf course, freshly baked bread, great coffee and most importantly—a place for service members to unwind and have fun.

People often ask, “Isn’t the military supposed to do that? Aren’t they supposed to take care of their people?”

Sherri Brown, head of American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces, explains:

“They do. But what the Red Cross does is different. They’re not in a military uniform. They smile, they hug. When people come into the office, you see their shoulders go down. Even though they’re still carrying a weapon, you can see them relax. It’s like a little oasis there.”

Brown recently traveled to Iraq and Kuwait to visit Red Cross staff and meet with U.S. military leadership. Hearing directly from military leaders how important the Red Cross is to them and to the troops was a reaffirmation of the Red Cross role in both peace and wartime.

In Balad, the Red Cross office is a busy place—service members come in to hang out, watch TV and connect with the outside world, via a large bank of computers where they can use the Internet and Skype with friends and family.

Red Cross staff in Balad have also started a volunteer program. Brown commented on the fact that members of the military want to volunteer with the Red Cross, saying, “That says a lot about what our people are doing there. It feels like home, so people want to be a part of it.”

Although Balad is the most fired-upon base in Iraq, that doesn’t faze the Red Cross personnel there. “Our staff are smiling every day…they are the most upbeat, giving individuals. They’re always looking for new ways to bring sunshine to the day,” Brown remarked.

In an uncertain world, no one knows when or where conflict will arise. One certainty, however, is that the American Red Cross will go wherever U.S. troops go, and will provide care and comfort as long as they are needed.

Read more about Service to the Armed Forces and how the American Red Cross helps military members and their families.