On August 12, 1990, five days after President George H.W. Bush committed troops to the Persian Gulf, the first Red Cross staff member arrived in Saudi Arabia.
Terry Hitchcock was the first of 158 Red Cross workers to be sent to the Gulf in what would be the first major deployment of troops and Red Cross staff since the end of the Vietnam War.
These staff members moved with their military units, lived in tents and endured harsh conditions. Communication was very difficult, as there were no computers, e-mail or cell phones. Nevertheless, in one year, Red Cross staff handled over 169,000 emergency messages for ground troops and more than 45,000 messages for the navy fleet.
Eleven of those who served during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm attended a ceremony on Friday that honored all Red Cross staff who have served overseas. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of their Gulf deployment, Jerry DeFrancisco, Red Cross president of Humanitarian Services, presented recognition letters and legacy pins to these staff members.
With the hopes of maintaining friendships formed in wartime and preserving the stories of those who served, a group of Red Cross workers created the American Red Cross Overseas Association (ARCOA) after World War II.
ARCOA holds an event each year in Washington, D.C., to honor and remember Red Cross staff who have served overseas and have passed away within the past year.
In addition to those who worked in the Persian Gulf, attendees at Friday’s event included former Red Cross staff who served during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
Sherri Brown, senior vice president of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces, expressed her appreciation of all those who have served overseas with the Red Cross. “We are humbled by your selfless service and inspired by each of you,” she told them.
Attendees also came together on Friday to officially launch the “Service to the Armed Forces: Our Legacy Continues” project.
The goal of the project is to document, honor and recognize the tremendous legacy of Red Cross staff who supported the U.S. military serving on combat, peacekeeping, peace-making, and humanitarian missions.
From the Civil War when Clara Barton first provided aid on the battlefield to the current war in Afghanistan, there have been 27 different overseas operations and wars to which Red Cross staff have deployed.