Rachel Tarses, a Red Cross volunteer embedded with the U.S. 1st Armored Division during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991, describes her experience during that conflict in one word: “humbling.”
Tarses discussed her role coordinating Red Cross emergency communications for military personnel at a special Veterans Day event held Nov. 10 for volunteers and staff at the Red Cross L.A. Region headquarters. The Red Cross relays urgent, verified messages, such as the death or serious illness of an immediate family member, as well as the good news of the birth of a service member's child.
As the L.A. Chapter Disaster Services Chair in the mid-1980s, Tarses had often witnessed the devastation caused by natural disasters. However, being part of a 20,000-person, forward-moving military division from the beginning of conflict to the end was an entirely different experience.
After being flown to a base camp in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert, Tarses’ humbling experience began. The former L.A. Chapter Board of Directors member carried her tent and all other possessions from camp to camp.
“Our Communications tent was often covered with sand, and the machines that sent and received emergency messages didn’t work much of the time,” said Tarses. In spite of the problems, during her five months in the Persian Gulf, Tarses and her Red Cross colleagues conveyed 10,000 messages at the camps.
In addition to her Red Cross responsibilities, Tarses, a mother herself, often helped young soldiers talk through psychological issues.
“I saw many young men, including one19-year-old I remember well, who were so gung-ho during the day, and then sat at the end of my bed, crying at night,” she said.
The division Tarses was part of ultimately reached the Euphrates River outside of Baghdad and was fired during her time there.
She said the biggest misconception about the Red Cross by military members and their families is that the Red Cross can make a decision about whether a soldier should be allowed to come home or not. Although, the Red Cross verifies information, the emergency communication is always given to the commanding officer, who then decides whether the soldier can be granted leave. In combat, very few soldiers are allowed to leave.
Tarses, who was interviewed by Buzz McCoy, L.A. Region lifetime Board of Directors member, said despite the hardships and issues she is grateful for her experience, for which she received the Bronze Star.
“The Red Cross is a dynamic organization, and what we do is a great service,” she said.
Rachel Tarses, second from right, is pictured with (l to r) Svetlana Fusekova, manager, International Services and Service to the Armed Forces, lifetime L.A. Region Board Member Buzz McCoy, and Kerry Khan, International Services and Service to the Armed Forces Americorps member.