It’s likely that there are people who may not be able to locate Lithuania on a map. Even fewer have been there.
And then there’s American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Regional Program Manager Amanda English, who was embedded with the U.S. Army there and met with the Lithuanian prime minister.
For English, an Oklahoma City resident who has been with Red Cross for two years, her role with SAF seems to be part of a natural career trajectory. Prior to joining SAF, Amanda spent 32 years in and around law enforcement and the military, including nearly a decade as police chief in Forest Park, Oklahoma. She was also an investigator for the U.S. Department of Defense, at one point deployed to Iraq during at height of the insurgency there in 2005.
“There were a lot of conflicts going on then and a lot of turmoil,” English said. “It changed me. It really shaped the way I’m living today. It’s part of the reason why I was really interested in being deployed with the military back in environments like that.”
Since its founding in 1881, the American Red Cross has provided critical assistance to military personnel and their families. Red Cross SAF works to strengthen their capacity to cope with the unique demands of a military lifestyle. This is achieved through preparedness briefings; mental health, preparedness, health and safety courses; health-care job certification training; and volunteer, networking and support opportunities—all delivered in local communities across the nation and on military installations around the globe. As a result, more than 1 million military families have been served since 9/11.
One of the first things English did when she arrived at the NATO base in Pabrade, Lithuania, was to meet with Lt. Col. Jay Ireland, commander of the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment. When she asked the commander what his expectations for her Red Cross team were, she said his response both surprised and excited her.
“He said, ‘I expect you to be a fully integrated part of my command team,’” English said. “And he said, ‘As of today, you are 1/8 CAV.’” Lt. Col. Ireland also stressed the importance of focusing on three priorities: the mind, body and spirit of the soldiers.
“I walked away from that meeting like, ‘Wow. It can’t just be getting up and just being present every day,’” she said. “And as a leader at my site, that became the goal, that we really want to be the nucleus of providing activities, resiliency training, volunteer opportunities, and to listen and provide valuable feedback.”
SAF services take several forms. When family emergencies occur, English and other SAF personnel obtain verified reports of family situations for service members and their commanders, enabling them to make timely decisions about returning home. Through its Hero Care Network, the Red Cross identifies and provides access to resources, including financial assistance, in response to a family’s emergency needs.
English said an important part of her role was to help keep up the morale of our servicemen and women, many of whom were away from home for the first time. “We tried to build morale there by doing things like karaoke, nacho night and movie night to bring some normalcy to what they’re doing and to let them know they have our support.”
One of the highlights of Amanda’s Lithuanian deployment was the NATO Summit July 11-12, 2023, in Vilnius. In addition to meeting distinguished visitors from that organization’s 31 member nations, English said she was thrilled when she briefed Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte on Red Cross services and presented her with a Red Cross coin.
“How many people in their lifetime can say they briefed a prime minister of a country?” English said. “That’d be cool!”
Another highlight of her deployment was participation in the 1/8ths “Spur Ride,” an event held over multiple days. During it, a trooper must pass a series of physical and mental tests that evaluate leadership, technical and tactical proficiency, and the ability to operate as part of a team under high levels of stress and fatigue. A written test is administered, with questions that cover United States Cavalry and unit history. Candidates are also required to recite from memory the traditional cavalry poem, “Fiddler's Green,” or other traditions or historical information pertaining to the Cavalry.
Having successfully completed the challenge of the Spur Ride, English was awarded the “Order of the Spur” certificate and a set of spurs proudly worn by the troopers.
“I was the oldest ‘trooper’ on the ground,” English said. “I felt every minute of it, but it reminded me that we can do hard things and are more resilient that we think.”
Amanda, who studied history at the University of Southern Mississippi, says that while she was deployed, she often thought of Clara Barton, whose creation of the American Red Cross grew out of giving aid and comfort to soldiers during the American Civil War. “I just loved her fire and tenacity,” English said. “I really admired that, and it taught me something.
“I love the fact that we carry on that tradition,” she added.
Persons needing help from the Red Cross SAF may call a 24/7 military hotline to the Hero Care Network at (877) 272-7337. They can also make contact and receive valuable information through the Hero Care app, available for free from most online app providers.
About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission. For more information about volunteering or contributing to the Red Cross’s mission, please call 1-800-RED-CROSS, visit redcross.org or CruzRojaAmericana.org, or follow us on Twitter at @RedCross.