In her 50 years of volunteering for the Service to Armed Forces division of the Red Cross, local volunteer Julie Berger has positively impacted the lives of thousands of armed forces service members and their families. In March 2016, in a twist of fate, Julie’s path and the path of a military family she helped in their time of great need, crossed paths in an unexpected and heartwarming way.
She was so grateful for the Red Cross helping to bring her son home for his father’s final hours.
Every day, Red Crossers provides 24/7 global emergency communication services and support for this Country’s military members. In one day, 522 emergency communications (phone calls) are processed containing notification of a sudden death or serious illness of an immediate family member, as well as the good news of the birth of a child or grandchild.
When a military family experiences a crisis or emergency at home, volunteers like Julie verify the information, which enables the service member’s commander to make an educated decision about granting emergency leave. “The military branch won’t send a service member home for an emergency unless the Red Cross verifies the need,” Julie explained.
Perhaps fate helped Julie cross paths with Joyce at the pre-event reception for the 19th Annual Real Heroes Breakfast in Vancouver in March of 2016. Her son-in-law was being honored for helping to save the life of an injured motorcyclist. She was also the mother of a service member (her other son) who, thanks to Julie’s behind-the-scenes efforts, was given authorization for emergency leave to come home to Vancouver, Washington when his father’s death was imminent. He made it back to the U.S. in time to be at his father’s bedside to spend a final few hours creating precious memories that will be cherished for a lifetime.
Joyce remembers relating the story of her son and his dying father asking Julie “maybe you were the one to help him get home just in time.”
“We do the behind-the-scenes work to get military men and women home for moments such as this,” Julie said.
With all the people Julie’s spoken to and assisted, it seemed that Joyce’s name just stuck with Julie after she processed the information and went about helping hundreds more people. “All my contact with the family was done over the phone,” remembers Julie. “When we realized what our connection was, and that I had been the one to help her son get home to see his dad before he passed, our eyes filled with tears of joy as we hugged. She whispered in my ear that she was so grateful for the Red Cross helping to bring her son home for his father’s final hours.”
Mike is a U.S. Navy Chief based in Japan where he leads a crew of helicopter electrical mechanics. Thousands of miles and many hours of flight time away from his family and dying father. His sister was the one who discovered the Service to the Armed Forces program and filled out all the necessary paperwork for the Red Cross volunteer (in this case Julie) to begin the process of getting Mike home before his father passed.
“Thanks to the Red Cross, he was able to board a Navy flight to Seattle and make it down to Vancouver five hours prior to his dad’s passing,” relates Joyce. An accomplished guitar player, Mike composed a special song he played for his father. “We are all so grateful he made it here in time, it was a real blessing for all of us.”
When talking about the important role this program plays in the lives of millions of people, Julie proudly explained that the Red Cross’ service to the military started a century ago with Clara Barton writing letters for wounded soldiers to send their loved ones at home during the Civil War.
As the wife a two-star army general and mother of three service members, Julie has a huge heart and overflowing empathy for the struggles of today’s military families. She is honored to be playing her part to help service men and women be present, at home, if even for a short time, during a time of family crisis.
To get emergency help from the Red Cross go to redcross.org/HeroCareNetwork or call 877-272-7337.