May 19 is Armed Forces Day, a day to honor those serving in the United States military. The American Red Cross has been supporting members of the Armed Forces since the time of the Spanish-American War in 1898. During two world wars, the conflict in Korea, the war in Vietnam, Operation Desert Shield and other conflicts around the world, Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) workers have served alongside the military, often putting their own lives at risk.
For the last 63 years, Armed Forces Day has been observed to honor those serving in the five branches of the country’s military – the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as members of the National Guard and those serving in reserve units.
SAF TODAY Red Cross SAF workers are present at more than 50 military installations around the world, including in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. Through these military installations and the network of Red Cross chapters across the country, the Red Cross works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to relay emergency messages to deployed service members, including those in remove locations and on ships at sea.
Last year, the Red Cross provided more than 380,000 emergency assistance services to service members and their families and dispensed $4.7 million in emergency financial aid to nearly 3,500 individuals or families on behalf of military aid societies.
Members of the Armed Forces can count on the Red Cross to help in times of crisis, access to financial assistance in partnership with military aid societies, as well as programs for the country’s veterans. For more information, visit the Service to the Armed Forces program information on our web site.
TWO WORLD WARS During World War I, Red Cross workers provided medical and recreational services for those in the military at home and abroad, and established a Home Service Program to help military families. Much of the medical care for the American military was provided by 18,000 Red Cross nurses. Nearly 4,800 Red Cross ambulance drivers provided first aid on the front lines; 296 American Red Cross nurses and 127 American Red Cross ambulance drivers died while serving during WWI.
More than 104,000 Red Cross nurses served in military hospitals at home and overseas during World War II. Red Cross workers also provided emergency message services and helped out in rest and recreation areas in the field, as well as at military hospitals, hospital ships and trains. American and Allied prisoners of war received 27 million Red Cross packages. The Red Cross blood donor project added a new dimension to Red Cross services, collecting more than 13 million units of blood for American servicemen. 78 Red Cross workers died while serving overseas during World War II.
KOREAN CONFLICT Red Cross services to the military grew during the Korean Conflict. The blood program for the military was expanded, and emergency mobile recreation services served not only American troops, but all United Nations forces. The Red Cross provided emergency communications from family members and a “first call home” program complete with stationery so wounded service members could write home.
When the 1953 armistice was signed, the American and Korean Red Cross ensured the transfer of nearly 90,000 prisoners of war. Two Red Cross workers gave their lives in service during the Korean Conflict. Since that time, Red Cross staff has been assigned in South Korea continuously, providing emergency communications to members of the military and their families. If hostilities were to break out on the Korean peninsula, these staff members would remain to support the wartime emergency communications needs of the service members and their families.
VIETNAM In 1962, the Red Cross sent its first field staff to Vietnam to assist the growing number of service members at various bases and hospitals. At the height of its involvement, 480 Red Cross field directors, hospital personnel and recreation workers served throughout Southeast Asia. Red Cross workers brought recreation to an average of 280,500 service members each month. They logged more than 2 million miles in jeeps, trucks and helicopters during the program's seven-year history. Five Red Cross staff members gave their lives and many others were injured as they helped service members in Vietnam.
During Operation Desert Shield, Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services (AFES) staff carried 215,000 emergency messages to and from the troops. Back home, Red Cross workers aided more than 4,700 service members and their families with $1.72 million in emergency financial assistance and other services. In fulfilling their duties in the Persian Gulf area, seven American Red Cross workers received the Bronze Star for meritorious service.
SAF workers were also on the ground in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Hungary, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo when they were needed to support American troops in those areas. The Red Cross was in Uzbekistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, serving all U.S. troops in that country, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Red Cross staff served during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, and are still on the ground in Kuwait and Iraq supporting the military during the ongoing conflicts there. They have handled thousands of emergency messages, distributed comfort kits, calling cards, blank greeting cards, quality of life items, and provided canteen services.