After eight years in Iraq, the American Red Cross has closed its last office and headed home.
At one time, the American Red Cross had offices in Baghdad, Balad and Tikrit, where staff members’ primary job was to handle emergency communications between U.S. troops and their families at home. However, as the drawdown of troops increased, the U.S. military requested that emergency communications be handled out of the existing Red Cross office in Kuwait.
In addition to handling emergency messages, Red Cross staff also worked to lift the spirits of those serving far from home. Their offices became a safe haven, replete with coffee and refreshments, internet cafes, TV rooms, video conference rooms, as well as DVD and book libraries. Red Cross staff held birthday and holiday celebrations, and gave out comfort kits and calling cards. But perhaps most importantly, they provided a friendly face and a listening ear.
Cindy Falkowski worked for the Red Cross in Tikrit in 2009. “I feel sometimes like I am ‘Mom’ to all these soldiers,” she said. “We are a friendly face that’s non-military that they can talk to about problems or things that are happening back home.”
Sherri Brown, head of American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces, visited Red Cross staff in Iraq in 2010 and explained the special role the Red Cross played there.
“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,” she said.
Red Cross staff routinely went above and beyond their formal duties while working in Iraq. They baked fresh bread every morning for service members, visited wounded troops in the hospital, and even built a miniature golf course for troops to enjoy in their leisure time.
Staff in Tikrit helped the U.S. military give a group of Iraqi orphans a day of fun and games two summers ago, and in Balad, the Red Cross office was the site of a sibling reunion, just in the time for the holidays in 2010.
The Red Cross was there for it all during those eight years, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week—many times delivering sad messages, but also getting to share in joyous moments, such as the birth of a child.
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.