This post is authored by Katheryn Wolfe, an American Red Cross worker serving troops in Balad, Iraq.
I started at number three on the backup list for this deployment, so someone upstairs obviously had me in mind for this opportunity. Though how I got here is a good story, what we do here is a better one. My two teammates and I help support our guys and gals in uniform through two primary avenues.
Casework: the story of helping someone you will never meet
To put it simply, the Red Cross is a connector between military members and their families back at home during a time of emergency. We deliver verified information to military commands regarding family emergencies (be it death, illness, birth, or other events that require immediate action) so that a decision can be made on whether a service member can take emergency leave.
A messenger, in almost any realm, usually does not know the sender or receiver. Likewise, while the work we do here is helpful to several families, we often don’t see the impact firsthand and are left to hope that the message made a difference. As I have come to find, in my short time being a caseworker, gratification is often delayed. Our fulfillment comes maybe several months or years later, when someone tells us how the Red Cross helped get them home to their family…for whatever emergency that confronted them.
Fresh Bread and the Comfort of a Keyboard
While emergency messages are the primary mission, we also engage in morale boosting activities. Our Balad office boasts an internet café, phone systems, flat screen TVs, a private legacy room where you can phone or skype home in the peace and quiet, a plethora of books and DVDs, a canteen with fresh baked bread and a staff who thoroughly enjoys talking with anyone who comes in the doors.
No matter the location, the Red Cross always seems to enlist the help of volunteers, Balad notwithstanding. After spending a year running a Red Cross volunteer program, I was so happy to see that our office is home to several volunteers; it was like being at home again. In my first week here, they actually served me more than I served them, and happily obliged to answering all my questions about their jobs. I am for certain that they will be the topic of many of my future posts!
A Goal to Fulfill
It is no secret that we are drawing down in Iraq, with the last combat troops having exited the theater this past fall. There is this inner conflict inside of me. I want to be busy, because I want to feel useful. But the very fact that we are busy with messages means someone has to cope with a difficult situation. Or when we have a lot of traffic in the office, it is sometimes a reminder of just how many people may still be in harm’s way.
So that presents a dilemma of perspective. Though I could go back and forth on these issues for a while, I think I’m going to settle on this philosophy. I don’t want to leave here knowing that I could have done more. Whether that is achieved through helping a hundred people or a thousand people, I don’t know. We will just have to see how everything unfolds during the next four months.
From here on out, I will post once a week, trying my best to relay the story of the Red Cross in Iraq. I am open to entertaining any questions you may have about life in theater!