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Head of American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Visits Guantanamo Bay

The American Red Cross Senior Vice President for Service to the Armed Forces (SAF), Sherri Brown, visited Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the first time last week.

Brown toured the base with the American Red Cross GTMO station manager, Sharon Coganow, to see firsthand how the organization supports the military and civilian community.

The mission of the SAF program is to help keep family members in communication with their loved ones who are serving at military installations anywhere in the world.

As head of SAF, Brown oversees the support the American Red Cross provides for military members, families and veterans. This includes its worldwide operations, support for military installations and also policy support for all of the chapters that deliver services to military families and veterans.

“I came to GTMO to spend a little time with Sharon to understand her operation and what she does here, and also get an understanding of the community, what GTMO is, what GTMO does, who the people are and how the Red Cross can bring the very best of the Red Cross to the GTMO community,” said Brown.

During her visit, Brown visited Joint Task Force-GTMO, Fleet and Family Support Center, the Naval Station Chaplain, the Naval Hospital, Morale, Welfare and Recreation and the Veterinarian clinic.

“I learned that the missions here are a little more varied than what people think about or what people know from either what they read or (see in) mainstream media,” Brown said. “Aside from what a lot of people know about detainee operations, there’s the whole base side of operations, the ships that come here for support, the Marine Security Forces, just the variety of missions taking place here is probably the most important thing to understand.”

American Red Cross Senior Vice President for Service to the Armed Forces, Sherri Brown

Brown said that enabling service members to communicate back home is a major part of the services the Red Cross provides and that for GTMO residents, it can be a challenge.

“It’s not like a normal military base,” she said. “The Internet service, telecom, things like that we take for granted, almost everywhere else in the world, including in theater, it is a little bit different here in GTMO. It was good to see firsthand that your BlackBerry doesn’t work; and your cell phone is not going to work here, and the Internet service is intermittent.

That’s an important thing to know from a systemic perspective because we have things like the emergency communication network that is so relied upon by individuals and families.”

The Red Cross emergency communication network enables service members stationed anywhere in the world, including ships at sea, embassies and remote locations to send or receive urgent messages to and from family members back home 24 hours, 365 days a year.

Brown had the opportunity to meet some of the GTMO residents who volunteer for the Red Cross during an open house held at the GTMO Red Cross station.

“Of course the Red Cross is all about volunteerism and serving your fellow man and humanitarianism, and you really see that in members of the community here, both military and civilian who step forward and say, ‘I want to volunteer, I want to work with the Red Cross, I want to be part of this community effort’,” she said.

Brown said that she was proud that the Red Cross is a part of the GTMO community.

“We’ve been here a long time and we’re going to continue to be here,” Brown said. “We started with our founder, Clara Barton, working with the military, so while a lot of people know about our blood services and about our disaster missions and our preparedness, health and safety services, it really was our military mission that the American Red Cross was founded upon. We are just so honored to still be able to do that and to continue to change and grow with the military and the military’s needs.”