“I’ve always deployed over the holidays because I like to be there for soldiers and provide a little bit of home at the holidays. We do as much as we can to make them feel like home is a little less far away — Thanksgiving events, holiday parties and a big tailgate at the Super Bowl — these small things matter,” said Red Crosser Cheryl Searcy.
As a member of Team 50, a unit 21 of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces personnel, Searcy and her colleagues will deploy in support of 10 Army installations around the globe. She says that this sort of service is a privilege.
“I feel distinct pride to be able to serve our military. I think the sacrifices that they and their families make are not always completely understood. This is my opportunity to thank them — that’s why I’m here and continue to serve in this capacity,” Searcy concluded.
Supporting the Military During Crisis
The Red Cross has supported troops in every major conflict for more than 100 years — including World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. When the conflict in Ukraine escalated in February of 2022, this support continued and since that time nearly 70 trained staff have deployed to support troops by providing emergency communication messages and morale activities.
Searcy says that each conflict has its challenges and she’s looking forward to being stationed in Poland. With previous deployments in Iraq in 2012 and Afghanistan in 2017, this will be her third overseas deployment with the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces department.
“With this mission, I think many soldiers recognize that they're on the cusp of something that could grow more and more dangerous. I think that weighs heavy on their minds. If there’s anything we can do to help divert their attention or give them something positive to do, that helps. They come into our office, have a cup of coffee, and just chat about what’s on their minds,” she said.
Connected to the Mission
“My previous deployments have been the highlight of my career with the Red Cross. I always felt good about my work with the organization, but this role holds a special place in my heart. I feel so deeply connected to the mission. Sometimes we cry together, we laugh together, and I think they need that. No one else does exactly what the Red Cross does with the military. We play an important role and to have a part in that is pretty darn special,” Searcy said.
In Romania, Red Crosser Harold West says that as an Army veteran he connects with the mission on a personal level. “I’m retired and I want to give back. I know what it is to be in the service, I know what it is to be away from home, and I think that I can relate to what they are going through,” he said.
West says that the Red Cross offers a great deal to service members and their families but the work with deployed service members is particularly special. “We do resiliency training, we do counseling — we do any kind of service you can think of. But more importantly, we are the link between home and the military. We keep everyone together because it does help,” he said.
Making the Holidays Special
Paul Butler, who is currently deployed with Team 49 and serves as the Middle East-Africa Team Lead in Kuwait, says that often the holidays can be a very rough time for soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines.
“For many, this is the first time they've spent the holidays away from their family. The Red Cross does all it can to help make the overseas holidays a joyous event, even when all of us are far from our loved ones,” he said.
Already this year, Butler said that he and Red Cross volunteers have dressed as elves for the holiday tree lighting and handed out over 200 stockings to service members. “Whether its holiday decorating projects, Hanukkah events, or Christmas events, we keep our offices open and mood bright for all of our visitors,” he said.
In Europe, West and his colleagues in Romania will put on a variety of activities including fun runs, bingo nights and cooking classes. He says that this time of year deployed Red Crossers are focused on spending time with service members and easing that tension and stress that accumulates when they are far away from home.
“We try to get involved with the soldiers and be a partner to do fun things. We want to provide a little fun to make life easier for these men and women,” West said.
Visit here to learn more about the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.
This is story is part of a special series on how people responded to crises in 2022 through the American Red Cross. Read our 2022 year-in-review press release to learn more.