Roger Lowe, senior vice president of communications for the American Red Cross, participated in Red Cross efforts to prepare military families for emergencies earlier this month in Grafenwoehr, Germany. This was one of six family emergency preparedness events the Red Cross is doing this year with military families. He sat down with me to share his thoughts about his fulfilling experience:
Supporting members of the Armed Forces, their families and our nation’s veterans is a cornerstone of the Red Cross mission, dating from the battlefield aid given by Clara Barton – who later founded the American Red Cross – to troops during the Civil War nearly 150 years ago. In addition, the American Red Cross also has a long tradition of helping families be better prepared for emergencies.
This year, we have been able to combine both of these important parts of the Red Cross work through a series of six events across the country and the globe to help prepare military families to handle emergencies.
To date, we’ve distributed nearly 7,500 emergency preparedness kits to military families at three military installations in the U.S. as well as bases in Germany and South Korea. Our final event for 2010 is prepared to give out another 1,500 kits this Saturday, October 23, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
I’ve personally attended two of these events, including our kick-off event in June in Fort Belvoir, Va., and the first overseas event held on October 2 in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
The events feature various tables where military families, retirees and Department of Defense staff get information and materials to be better prepared for natural disasters. The free Red Cross kits include a battery-operated lantern, a water bag, a light stick, first aid kit, multipurpose tool and an Eton hand-crank emergency weather radio that doubles as a cell phone charger.
Our kick off event at Fort Belvoir, VA touched over 1,100 service members and families and encouraged us about our prospects for impacting many more families through each following event. Families attending the events received recommended resources for their own emergency preparedness kits (EPK’s) and then committed to following the remaining Be Red Cross Ready steps at home.
Jean Leonard, an army wife caring for her two young children while her husband Lt. Col. Perry Leonard serves his first year long tour in Afghanistan, shared her situation with one of the event staffers. “It’s a first for me and the kids to deal with this situation with daddy not being around for that long,” said Jean. “I have to be strong for my kids and handle everything that comes our way. I am so glad that there are organizations like Red Cross to help us when there are emergencies.”
As evidenced in our event in Germany, everyone must start at square one to achieve complete emergency preparedness. Brigadier General Steven Salazar joined the nearly 800 other families in line to pick up his Red Cross bag and went station-to-station in the base gymnasium, collecting each item, learning preparedness information and talking with the volunteers at each table. (Other kits were distributed to families at nearby Germany bases in the days that followed.)
The Red Cross has also held emergency preparedness kit-building events in Ft. Polk, LA, Ft. Drum, NY, and Yongsan, Korea.
I’ve been moved by the outpouring of sentiment and appreciation expressed by these families at these events. Often the sacrifices of families at home rival the sacrifices of their spouses and loved ones serving a world away. Every time someone thanked the Red Cross for these kits my reply was, ‘Thank YOU for your service.’