Role of Red Cross extends to military support

By Thomas Wilson

   With growing numbers of American service men and women being deployed to the Middle East, the American Red Cross Service Center in Elizabethton is preparing for the increasing deployment of active duty reservists and National Guard members.
   "We are visiting reserve and guard units to ensure they have the information needed for their families to make communication as smooth as possible," said Kim Fisk, coordinator of the county's Red Cross Service Center.
   The organization's Armed Forces Emergency Services group is gearing up for a possible heightened role as the communications conduit for armed services personnel.
   Modern technology provides the communications conduit for military personnel stationed all over the world to send messages to loved ones back home during an emergency or other important events.
   "Last year from Carter County, we responded to the needs of 23 local families who needed to send emergency messages and one additional family who applied for a military society loan," said Fisk. "We expect these numbers to increase in the next months."
   The Red Cross is sending workers alongside military forces to provide the message service at the other end. Local chapters are ensuring all local workers are ready 24 hours a day to receive and transmit emergency messages from local families.
   The Armed Forces Emergency Services personnel serve in nearly 1,000 chapters in the United States, on 109 military installations around the world and alongside troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
   Military members relay messages between families and service members for emergency news of the birth of a child, a serious illness or death in the family.
   "Families need to know the following information to enable us to transmit the message quickly -- service member's full name, rank, and current military address," said Fisk. "Also necessary is date of birth and social security number for the service member.
   Fisk said with the basic information, a Red Cross caseworker can verify the local emergency and send a message to a soldier stationed overseas 24 hours a day.
   The Red Cross works with military aid societies such as Army Emergency Relief, Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, and the Air Force Aid Society to provide service men and women financial assistance as well as a confidential environment in which service men and women can receive counseling, referrals and other social services.
   In 2001, the Red Cross, in partnership with military aid societies, reported providing over $3.2 million emergency financial aid to service members, their families, retired military personnel and widows of retired military personnel.
   Assistance can include funds for emergency travel, which requires the presence of the service member or his or her family, burial of a loved one, or assistance that cannot wait until the next business day such as food, temporary lodging, or urgent medical needs.