May is Military Appreciation Month! This month, the American Red Cross wants to restate its commitment to serving the U.S. military community at every step – from the time a service member takes the oath to navigating life as a veteran. You can find American Red Cross support of service members across the globe at military hospitals, on overseas installations and in communities across America. The legacy of lending support and showing appreciation for the U.S. military has roots that go back nearly 140 years and it all started with one woman.
CLARA BARTON: FOUNDER OF THE AMERICAN RED CROSS
Clara Barton is one of the most honored women in American history. She risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field during the Civil War. She founded the American Red Cross in 1881, at age 59, and led it for the next 23 years. Barton’s understanding of the ways she could provide help to people in distress guided her throughout her life. By the force of her personal example, Clara Barton opened pathways for women to support U.S. service members for generations to come.
LINDA JAGER: DONUT DOLLY OF THE VIETNAM WAR
The year was 1970. Linda Jager found herself in the middle of a large field in Vietnam, surrounded by tanks. U.S. troops were fighting some of the fiercest battles at this time and Linda was there through all of it.
To support U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, American women signed up to travel and lend support on bases overseas through a program called the Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) or as the soldiers knew it, “The Donut Dollies.” Linda Jager was a proud Donut Dolly. Through this program she and her colleagues worked in active war zones. They served food and drink, boosted solider morale through entertainment and brought a touch of home to military service members by offering a listening ear and support at every turn.
“On a typical day, we would rise at 5:30 a.m., board a helicopter and depart with a large canvas club mobile kit and partner,” she said. “Each day, we went to service clubs, units, mess halls, hospitals or off into ‘the bush,’ where the war and the men who fought in it, became an intimate part of our lives. We worked 10- to 12-hour days, six days a week. It was only when we were in our billets that we would cry or let ourselves talk about our experiences.
“The pictures I have remind me of the places, Pleiku, Freedom Hill, Monkey Mountain, and Danang Air Base. The memories I have remind me of the people, my role, and my purpose for going.”
After leaving Vietnam, many decades later, Linda returned as a volunteer with the Red Cross. Today, she continues to serve, helping military and veteran families.
MONICA REED: HERO CARE EMERGENCY VOLUNTEER OF TODAY
“I’m part of something bigger than myself,” shares Monica Reed, “Our military families are on the frontlines and they need our support. Through the Red Cross, I have the ability every day to help a military wife, a mom or any other family member through an emergency. That really makes me proud because I can use my experience as a military mom and widowed spouse to help them.”
Monica Reed is a Hero Care Network volunteer with the American Red Cross. She draws on her military family background and lends her expertise by answering emergency phone calls from separated military families. She delivers those messages and connects deployed service members with their loved ones. “Growing up I saw it firsthand, with my own mom needing to get in touch with my dad when he was deployed. I feel what they feel and put myself in their shoes. It comes naturally when you grew up seeing it. I know how to handle serious and sensitive phone calls. There are new family emergencies every day and we have an important duty to get these messages out immediately. And I always call back to check on them.”
Reed recalls a particularly tough phone call. “There was a military mom who called trying to reach her son deployed with the Army. She was understandably inconsolable. She was having to deliver the news to her son that his wife and kids had all just been killed by a drunk driver. I couldn’t even imagine the pain, but the delivery of this message was critical. We had to find him and help get him home ASAP. As a Red Cross volunteer you are propelled, you have to be there, you have to help.”
Over a year ago, tragedy struck Reed’s home when her veteran husband passed away from pancreatic cancer. “After my husband’s passing, I was on my own adjusting with bills, kids and grandkids.” Despite the pain, Reed knew she wanted to honor his legacy by continuing support for military families. Through the Red Cross, she is able to do just that. “After seeing what my husband went through and taking care of him through his sickness, if I could help every military family in the world I would.
SERVICE TO THE ARMED FORCES HERO CARE NETWORK Guided by our Congressional Charter, the Red Cross provides communication between service members and their families during times of emergency. In times of emergency, we help military families communicate with their loved ones and help assist their return home through our Hero Care Network, which is available online, by phone, through our mobile app or in person, 24 hours a day.