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American Red Cross Continues Mission to Support Troops

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2005 – The American Red Cross has a long history of providing support to members of the United States armed forces.

One of its newer efforts is the "Get to Know Us" program, an information resource for families of deployed servicemembers. The program's goal is to inform military families about the multitude of services the Red Cross offers to meet their needs, such as how to cope with separation issues and instructions on how to reach deployed loved ones in case of an emergency.

"It is a program designed specifically for the National Guard and Reserves, folks that are in the military but are not near a major military base," Julie Burger, a member of the American Red Cross national board of governors, said.

Many National Guard and Reserve families live in civilian communities, and "some of these families are not used to the military jargon," she said.

Burger added that the Get to Know Us program has been a great asset to military families during the global war on terror and credited its success with the fact that the program was developed and initiated prior to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"When 9/11 hit and all the National Guard and Reserve members were deployed, the Red Cross was in a very good position to help those families left behind," Burger said. "We had everything in place to care for military families, where other programs had to ramp up."

For instance, the organization's Armed Forces Emergency Services gave military family members an immediate means to contact deployed troops to inform them of an emergency, like a dying family member. The Red Cross can send emergency messages to servicemembers anywhere in the world, including to ships at sea, embassies and isolated military units, she said.

According to the American Red Cross Web site, "These communications are delivered around -the clock, seven days a week, 365 days a year."

The Red Cross verifies the authenticity of the message before passing it through military channels. This verification process is very helpful to military commanders, Burger said. "That's the beauty of the Red Cross, and that's why a commander anywhere can trust that if it's a Red Cross message, the situation is verified," she said.

The program is expansive, with volunteers working in more than 900 Red Cross chapters in the U.S. and at military installations around the world, she said. In 2004, the program provided 769,084 emergency communications.

Aside from many of its traditional services, like running the largest blood-donor service in the United States and educational training programs in first aid, water safety and CPR, the American Red Cross provides many other services to military personnel.

"We have many other programs to help the families of deployed soldiers," Burger said.

Some of these programs include financial assistance and counseling. According to the Red Cross Web site, financial assistance can run the gamut from emergency travel expenditures to utility payments.

Red Cross chapters throughout the country also encourage local businesses to provide free or discounted services to military families, such as oil changes, haircuts and legal advice, Burger said.

Historically, the American Red Cross has had close ties with the U.S. military. "We have had a long-standing relationship with the Department of Defense. We have an excellent working relationship, not only at the operational level but at the government's level as well," Burger said.

This has been evidenced by the recent efforts along the Gulf Coast to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The National Guard helped the Red Cross transport supplies and guarded shelters during the aftermath of the hurricane, she said.

A member of Joint Staff is also appointed by the president to sit on the Red Cross board, and Red Cross workers are often deployed with troops to combat zones, so they understand many of the hardships faced by those in uniform, Burger said.

The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which consists of the International Committee of the Red Cross, individual national Red Cross societies, and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which make up the world's largest humanitarian-aid network.

Red Crescent was added to the movement's title in 1986 and is used in most Islamic countries.

"Each country has a Red Cross of its own, which are called Red Cross societies, and the federation is kind of like the United Nations of Red Cross societies," Burger said.

If a particular country is struck by a natural disaster the federation helps facilitate other national Red Cross societies coming to its aid, she said.

The idea for the Red Cross came from Jean Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman and philanthropist. During Italy's struggle for unification Dunant witnessed the gruesome aftermath of the Battle of Solferino on June 24, 1859, in which upwards of 40,000 men were killed or wounded. He was mortified at the lack of medical care for wounded troops and immediately set about trying to establish an international system of voluntary relief agencies to aid the wounded in future conflicts.

In 1862 Dunant published "A Memory of Solferino," his memoir of the battle. The book advocated that nations "formulate some international principle, sanctioned by a convention, inviolate in character, which, once approved and ratified, might serve as the basis for societies for the relief of the wounded."

The following year, Dunant, along with several other philanthropists and the Swiss government, formed a committee to probe the idea of putting his ideas into action. The committee immediately called for a convention to be held in Geneva.

The International Red Cross was formally established in 1864 with the first Geneva Convention. The American humanitarian Clara Barton tirelessly lobbied for the United States to ratify the first Geneva Convention, which it ultimately did in 1882. Another of Barton's great achievements was to found the American Red Cross in 1881.

Twenty years earlier at the outbreak of the American Civil War, Barton quit her job as a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office to care for wounded Union soldiers. A few years after the war ended, she took a four-year journey through Europe, where she became acquainted with the International Red Cross and served as a volunteer during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Upon her return to the U.S., she began working toward the creation of an American counterpart.

The American Red Cross is not a government agency. However, in 1900 the organization was granted a charter by the U.S. Congress "to furnish volunteer aid to the sick and wounded of armies in time of war" and "carry on a system of national and international relief in time of peace and apply the same in mitigating the suffering caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods, and other great national calamities, and to devise and carry on measures for preventing the same."

In 1909, Jane Delano, the superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps, established the Red Cross Nursing Service. Ever since, Red Cross nurses have played a major role in easing the suffering of wounded American servicemembers.

After a 38-year association with the American Red Cross, Julie Burger understands the important role the organization has historically played in helping the men and women of the U.S. armed forces and works to continue that legacy.

She also appreciates its contributions on a personal level. Her husband Les Burger is a retired Army Maj. Gen., and she has three sons who are currently in the military.

"I am very much aware of the issues and very cognizant of the importance of helping military personnel," Burger said. "And I want to make sure that the Red Cross continues to serve them and their families."

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