Many people do not know that the American Red Cross is the primary liaison between deployed service members, their commands, and military families back home during times of crisis. Despite only leaving the U.S. in early March, the weight of this critical task is evident to the Red Cross reservist teams newly stationed in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
“One of the most eye opening things so far has been seeing how important Red Cross messages are for servicemen and women and their chain of commands,” says Rineheart, who is currently assisting military members from his Red Cross post on Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
“The military relies on the Red Cross to verify the content of each emergency message. Oftentimes, service members wait for the Red Cross message to come through in order for their command to grant them emergency leave,” he adds.
The Red Cross is congressionally chartered to facilitate communication between military members and their families back home, a role that is vital in times of personal crisis. Each year the Red Cross serves more than 100,000 families needing emergency assistance.
“Our job is meaningful and fulfilling and more people should know what we do,” says Rineheart. “It seems strange, but in many ways the Red Cross workers become the most important people in the country for that service member.”
“I think a lot of the information is tough for people to receive,” adds Keith Hensley, who is stationed at Bagram alongside Rineheart. “But whether it’s good news or bad news, to be involved in someone’s life when they need it is powerful. I’m happy to help be that person behind the scenes who helps connect them with their family.”
“We are the face of the Red Cross for a lot of these people,” echoes James Bordonaro, a Red Cross disaster volunteer currently serving military members on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. “We deliver good news and bad news, and part of our job is to be there for them. If they need a shoulder to cry on, I’ll give them a shoulder.”Red Cross team members support emergency communications at the base installation on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Photo courtesy of James Bordonaro, American Red Cross. Along with provided service members communication assistance, the Hide Away Oasis at the Red Cross office on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait provides some of the comforts of home during off-duty hours.
Rineheart credits call center staff as “the backbone of the entire emergency messaging process” since they work directly with families to start emergency communications. The Red Cross operates its 24-hour center with the support of workers in San Diego, Calif., Louisville, Ky., Springfield, Mass., and Fort Sill, Okla.
“The call centers deserve the most credit,” says Rineheart. “We’re simply relaying their work to the command here in Afghanistan. The only difference is sometimes our offices and homes get rocketed.”