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Full Circle of Service

El Paso-20130904-00094

This post is from Red Cross Volunteer, Cheryl Searcy

I’ve been with the American Red Cross for twenty-two years; I started in Blood Services and then moved to disaster response. Deploying to Afghanistan will bring me full circle with the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. It offers the opportunity to live the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces mission. My dad turns 90 next month; a WWII veteran (Navy Air Corps) and then 20 years as a reservist. I grew up listening to wonderful stories about his military career and developed a deep respect and appreciation for the sacrifices our service members and their families make every day. This is an opportunity for me to thank my dad – and all those who followed him – for their service.

Why we do what we do
Our primary mission downrange is to serve as the communications medium between deployed service members and their families. We’re there at the invitation of the military and currently delivering approximately 900 emergency messages per month in Afghanistan. When a service member’s family experiences an emergency back home, the Red Cross verifies the information and delivers the message to command. Being separated for months at a time and thousands of miles apart presents many challenges to these families. It’s hard for most of us to imagine the strain of that kind of situation. Our mission to deliver timely and accurate information during those times of separation helps relieve some of the pressure on the families and allows military command to make decisions based on verified information. While at Bagram Air Base, our team will also make hospital visits, plan fun activities for our service members (especially around the holidays) and support other military-sponsored morale activities. I know this will be a rewarding and meaningful experience for me and I’m hopeful I can make a difference in someone’s life while I’m there. I’m excited to start on this incredible journey.

A week of training
Other than one day spent at the shooting range, our Red Cross teams (4 headed to Afghanistan and 3 to Kuwait) endure the same training as the military service members who deploy from the Conus Replacement Center at Ft. Bliss, Texas. The training is critical to our safety while in theatre has helped prepare us for austere living conditions, provided essential information on the Afghan culture and indoctrinated us to military standards and protocol. The week also included a day of rigorous medical assessment to ensure our good health before, during, and after our assignment. It’s been an amazing week and I’ll leave here feeling prepared for my five months in Afghanistan because of the pre-deployment training I’ve received. It’s time to put what I’ve learned to work!

Day 5
OMG! They put us in full gear – armor, helmets, elbow/knee pads, protective glasses, gloves, etc. We strapped into a large assault vehicle simulator and they rolled us 2-3 times, finally stopping upside down. Then we had to release ourselves from the upside down vehicle and escape by crawling out of the only passable door. The experience gave me a new perspective and appreciation for what our military men and women go through in a hostile environment – IEDs, landing in the water or dust/dirt filling the air, damaged vehicle, wounded buddies, weapons and gear flying everywhere, etc. The simulator only gives you a snapshot of what the real thing would be like, but similar to so much of the training we’ve had this week, it helped me understand what they deal with every day. Because I have the chance to support their efforts in a very personal way, the mission is again validated for me. It’s going to be an amazing experience and I feel very fortunate to get this opportunity!

El Paso North Central-20130903-00078

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