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Red Cross Partners Help Respond to ND Floods

They call themselves "the JetBlue Six." Others call them wonderful, wizards, amazing and "phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal."

Six employees from JetBlue Airways have taken on new roles under a new boss, becoming part of the American Red Cross response in North Dakota. Since June 4, workers from across the country have converged there to provide food, shelter, emotional support and more to an estimated 16,000 residents facing flooding from the Missouri and Souris rivers.

Until recently, the six JetBlue employees had never met. Though they work for the same company, they have different jobs in different locations. But one thing they have in common is a desire to help others.

Because of that, they became part of the American Red Cross in Greater New York's Ready When the Time Comes (RWTC) program, which provides disaster-relief training to volunteer teams from local corporate, business and community groups. They receive basic disaster relief and personal preparedness training and then serve as a reserve task force to be called upon when a large-scale relief operation requires increased personnel.

Ready When the Time Comes was developed in 2001 as a partnership between the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago and W.W. Grainger, Inc., the national founding sponsor of the program. Today, thousands of employees representing 460 businesses and organizations in 52 communities across the country have been trained as Red Cross disaster volunteers through the program.

Red Cross volunteers have stepped up to help communities devastated by tornadoes and floods. A series of major disaster responses in the U.S. since March 31 has involved almost 13,000 Red Cross workers and led to activation of the JetBlue Six team to help fill a staffing need.

"When I got here [in Bismarck, N.D.], I didn't have any staff," says Claire Tryon, logistics chief and the one who generated the "phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal" tag for the team. When someone said that there were six volunteers coming from JetBlue, Tryon was quick to raise her hand and ask for the new team's help.

Their earlier training in sheltering and feeding was expanded to include on-the-job training in just about everything the Red Cross logistics group does on a relief operation.

"They've worked in supply, transportation, procurement, in-kind donations and ERV [mobile feeding vehicle] inspections," said Tryon. The team members never hesitated to say yes to anything they were asked to do, and Tryon added that she would be glad to work with any of them again "anytime, anywhere."

Other Red Cross workers have not been the only ones to comment on the JetBlue Six team. In an email to team members, JetBlue Chief Operating Officer Rob Maruster wrote, "What the six of you are doing in North Dakota is nothing short of spectacular! The Red Cross would NOT be able to fulfill its mission if it were not for people like you that commit your time and energy."

"I couldn't imagine being anywhere else right now," said Ngierot Edward-Smith, a member of the JetBlue team. "This experience is nothing short of humbling. I thank JetBlue for allowing me to go on this adventure to discover that I can be more helpful than I ever knew in my life."