by Jennifer Hermon
A mother of a twice-deployed National Guardsman during war time understands the fears parents harbor when their children are sworn in and leave for the unknown. This makes Mary Johnson the perfect American Red Cross volunteer to help keep parents connected to their service members.
The connection starts day-one when those service members arrive at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) to ship out for Basic Training with the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines or Navy.
For the parents who arrive with their son or daughter each week, Mary and her fellow volunteers are in place to reassure, comfort and make sure the families know the Red Cross can help keep them connected throughout their service to our country, and to help the parents through this tough day of saying goodbye.
The Red Cross offers a multitude of volunteer opportunities and Mary found her perfect fit after a while. As a retired civilian IT specialist with the Army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Mary saw a possible opportunity in an IT position with the Red Cross.
While exploring that option she met a few other volunteers and they started meeting once a month in Leavenworth to share experiences and draw in more volunteers.
Eventually she was asked by Jason Ramlow, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services assistant director for the Red Cross Missouri and Arkansas Region, if she would be interested in in working as a caseworker to make calls to parents of new service members to tell them about Service to the Armed Forces.
Mary found her fit.
“He asked me to represent the Red Cross at Newcomer meetings on post and PAIR days at Fort Leavenworth and I jumped at that opportunity …also because I'm back where I worked for 14 years before retirement and I feel at home,” she said.
This home Mary has created with the Red Cross is a benefit to so many families. Mary has been in their shoes and can offer solutions when emergencies occur and families need to contact their service members.
“Every service member I meet is a hero to me. I know the sacrifices they make and how hard it is for their families, sending them off on a deployment that they may not return from. My own son was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2008 and that was the hardest time of my life,” Mary said.
Mary helps families connect to the free Red Cross Hero Care App available from the Apple App Store, Google Play Store or by texting “GETHEROCARE” to 90999.
This is the easiest way to get in touch with the Red Cross if they need their service member home on emergency leave and it also provides a wealth of information about other services the Red Cross provides to the Military.
Here Mary recounts a typical volunteer morning for her:
I visit on Mondays, and Helen and Ray Hartjen take the Tuesday shift. We get there at about 8:30 a.m. and start to work before the parents are allowed in at 9:00 a.m. We talk to those shipping out to Basic Training that day and ask them if their family members are going to be there that day to see them off. If none of the family members are going to be there that day, we ask them to fill out a Family Contact Car with their name, the service they are entering, and then the information for contacting their parents.
These go to the Red Cross office, get put in the database and these are the parents we call from home and explain the Emergency Communication Service that the Red Cross provides for military members. If there is an emergency at home, the parents can call the Red Cross office and request that the Red Cross get their soldier home on emergency leave.
After we talk to those shipping out, we start preparing the MEPS office. We make coffee for the family members, get out water and snacks for the family members and those leaving.
When the family members arrive, we start talking to them have them fill out the Family Contact Card for the database, and explain the Emergency Communication Service the Red Cross provides to get their service member home if there is a family emergency such as a hospitalization or a death. We also make sure that family members know about the Hero Care App.This is the easiest way to get in touch with the Red Cross in case of a family emergency. The service members are taken into the ceremony room and sworn in with their parents watching. We have to navigate around which families are in there and make sure we don't miss family members that may have come in late.
We leave MEPS about 11:00 am and we do it all again the next week.
Mary’s recommendation for worried families with a son or daughter in the military? Explore the many opportunities to help others with the Service to the Armed Forces. Doing for other families and military service members in the same situation provides more connections and a salve for those difficult and worrisome times.
With so many volunteer opportunities with the American Red Cross, we hope more people like Mary Johnson can fulfil their passion for helping others. We are deeply grateful that Mary found her fit with the Services to the Armed Forces group!