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Red Cross Getting Military Families Prepared

The American Red Cross and the U.S. Army hosted events at six Army installations all around the world over the past several months to educate members of the military and their families on how to be Red Cross Ready.

Red Cross and Army representatives convened at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, Fort Drum, New York, Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Lewis, Washington, Youngsan, Korea and Vilseck, Germany to help soldiers and their family members assemble emergency preparedness kits for their homes.

The events offered an opportunity for as many as 9,000 soldiers and their families to come together to start building their kits and learn the importance of being prepared at home. With the basics provided at the events, those participating then took the kits home and personalized them by adding items such as medications and important papers to match the needs of their individual families.

The kits contained instructional preparedness information, lanterns, Red Cross Personal Safety Packs, hand-crank radios, first aid kits, five-gallon collapsible water containers, multi-purpose tools, emergency glow sticks, Family Emergency Preparedness Guides and other items.

“We want our soldiers to know that their families are ready for life's emergencies - no matter where and no matter how big or small,” said Jerry DeFrancisco, president of Red Cross Humanitarian Services. “Whether they're working a shift on post or deployed overseas, they will not be able to go home right away when something happens. That's why it's important for them to know their families have this kit and the knowledge to take care of themselves.”

Most military families get to know the Red Cross through its Service to the Armed Forces when there is a need for emergency communications with the soldier, or when they see Red Cross volunteers working in military hospitals.

“These events gave us the opportunity to not only show the soldiers the Red Cross has so much more to offer, but to educate them about the importance of having their family prepared for emergencies,” said Sherri Brown, senior vice president, Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces. “Military families give so much for their country – it is important that the Red Cross gives back to them. These events gave the families the confidence they need to weather a storm or make it through a disaster by helping them be prepared for an emergency.”

At Fort Polk, soldiers and their families stood in a long line to receive the Red Cross kits. Col. Roger Shuck, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk chief of staff, said he and his family felt the kit was worth the wait. “This kind of kit is necessary with the environment that we’re in. It’s fantastic that it’s being provided for the community. It makes everybody start thinking about long-term plans,” said Shuck.

Each location faces its own challenges when it comes to possible disasters. Fort Polk, Joint Base Lewis/McChord and Yongsan, Korea can experience severe flooding. Fort Drum in New York weathers severe winters and huge snowstorms. Vilseck also sees harsh winter weather and is in a very rural part of Germany. Fort Belvoir is in the Washington, D.C. area and faces the possibility of hurricanes, harsh winters, and man-made disasters.

The Red Cross was represented by staff from National Headquarters in Washington and from chapters all over the states where the military installations are located. Excellent support from the Army and agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Office of the Army Surgeon General and Ready.Gov contributed to the program’s success. FedEx donated the cost of shipping the kit contents to the overseas locations.

A side benefit of the events was the addition of a number of new volunteers for Service to Armed Forces and other Red Cross programs. Attendees learned the full scope of Red Cross services available to them. Many military families expressed interest in attending Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and First Aid training.

“Our hope is that we can expand this program to all branches of the military in the years to come,” Brown said. “Not only did we bring families together to learn about preparedness, but we were able to bring a larger view of what the Red Cross has to offer to the soldiers and their families.”