“We want our military community to know that we are here to support them. That’s one of our roles at the Red Cross — to let people know that they are not alone,” said Jennifer Mohr, a Red Crosser and military spouse, living at Aviano Air Force Base in Italy. At this year’s 4th of July celebration on base, she and fellow military spouse Victoria French will be manning a Red Cross table, standing by to help military families in ways big and small.
Far From Home
French said that the holidays can remind people just how far they are from home. “Here in Italy, people don’t speak the same language and perhaps their spouse is deployed. We don’t really have a village built into our family structure anymore and it can be hard for families to navigate it all,” she said. “In our role at the Red Cross, we want to serve as that village.”
French and Mohr shared their own challenges, similar to those many military families face, including the isolation of moving to a new place without employment or a support system. Since service members typically move to a new unit every two to three years, families face the compounding challenges of finding a new home, enrolling children in new schools, making new friends and adapting to a new community or even a new country.
Mohr says the ripple effects of the COVID pandemic put additional strains on military families living abroad. With the war in Ukraine, deployment surges for U.S. service members to Eastern Europe have added additional stressors for families stationed overseas. French said that she and her colleagues at the Red Cross often see the stress this creates up close and personal.
“It’s hard enough to move and adjust to a new place but as military families, we have unique challenges to face,” Mohr said. She says that through it all, the Red Cross is there to help people connect. “I think when people come and especially volunteer with us, they say, ‘Wow, other people are having the same struggles as I am, especially during COVID.’ I think that was a really big thing to address. And so it's just nice to have that sense of community,” she said.
Meeting Needs Big and Small
For French, a big part of building community is meeting the current needs of families. “We ensure that our office is kid-friendly,” she said. “Our volunteers often bring their kids and we have meetings with them in attendance. I feel like that is so great, especially for moms who often are doing the work of both parents during a deployment.”
At Aviano Air Base, the Red Cross provides CPR training and supports emergency messages for service members and their families. “But we also show up in other ways — including all of the community events,” Mohr said. For the holiday weekend, French and Mohr will be at the base 4th of July celebration handing out sunscreen, bug spray and water bottles leading up to the event. “It may not seem like much but people know that we are always here,” Mohr said. “We're here and part of the community, we want to underscore that all year.”