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Red Cross Reservists: Our First Weeks Serving in the Theater

In early March, a new team of Red Cross reservists deployed to support service members on installations overseas. They shared their experiences during the first few weeks on the job with team member Attie Poirier back in Washington, D.C.

Feel free to share your questions for the team in the comment box!

From left to right: Hope Bryant and James Bordonaro are stationed on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, and Jason Rineheart is stationed on Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.

After you finished training at Fort Sill, Okla. you spent a week on Fort Benning, Ga. to prepare for deployment. Can you describe your travels from there?

James: We left Fort Sill on March 2 and went to Fort Benning for a week. From there we went 6.5 hours to Ireland then another 6+ to Kuwait.

Hope: I believe we flew about 16 hours including a layover plus traveled a few hours by van… From Fort Benning it was about a 6.5 hour flight to Shannon, Ireland. Then we connected to Kuwait International Airport. They bused us from the plane to a holding area and then we were loaded into buses and took a 45 minute ride to Ali a Salem. There were briefed and gathered our duffel bags and gear. Then we took about a 2 hour drive to Camp Arijan.

Jason: Our team left for Bagram on March 9. After about 50 hours of travel door-to-door we arrived in Afghanistan.

Getting to your posts halfway around the world sounds like a feat!  What did you do in your first couple days after arriving?

Jason: The first couple days were a transition period with the previous Bagram Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) team. We basically learned the ropes, toured the base, and learned how things function here on Bagram. Once they left on March 15, we took over full-time and have been handling all of the casework and station duties.

James: We checked in on base and shadowed the departing Red Cross team.

Hope: We also filled out a lot of paperwork and got other housekeeping-type needs out of the way. There is paperwork for accessing the computers, the computer system, getting our orders stamped so we can eat in the dining facilities, etc. As we shadowed the outgoing team we slowly took over their responsibilities.

Has it been hard to adjust to the change?

 Jason: I’ve adjusted well to the time change—we’re 9.5 hours ahead of you—and to life here.

James: My schedule is the night shift, so my schedule isn’t that much of an adjustment. The only timing issue is when I have a meeting in the morning and on Fridays when I have Navy Gear Drop for a few hours after my standard shift.

Hope: I adjusted quite well to the place and didn’t really experience jetlag or anything. Fingers crossed I don’t.  We have had a few major dust storms in the last few days, so that’s something you have to adjust to. It gets in your hair, your nose, down your throat, etc.

Like many service members, you’re far from your families and loved ones. How do you stay in touch?

Hope: I’ve adjusted to being away from my loved ones well. We keep in touch via email and Google chat. You can also purchase email cards for different time amounts and there are many places here that offer free Wi-Fi. I’m still trying to get Skype up and going on my laptop…

Jason: I have traveled and lived abroad so I’m used to being away from family, so I usually email with my family a few times a week.

James: My brother is an active duty Marine and my father was a Navy Seal, so deploying is commonplace for us, we’re used to it. We email and have phone calls, but I’m an old hand at being away from my family – all those [Red Cross] disaster deployments!

What has surprised you so far about your experience? Have you had any expectations that you’ve found to be different since starting?

 Hope: My biggest surprise here is how the accommodations are… Our rooms, the dining, everything has been fairly comfortable. I expected things to be more rustic and to have fewer conveniences – but I definitely don’t feel like I’m roughing it.

James: Expectations are not useful, it’s better to arrive with an open mind.

Jason: I sort of came here with an open mind, ready to take whatever was thrown at me… Honestly, what’s been most surprising about my time here is how much service members rely on the American Red Cross for day to day things. Of course our primary work is emergency communications between troops and their families, but we also have a lot of foot traffic in our day room.  We have a big TV, two couches, two chairs, and a massage chair—which is sweet by the way—and it’s a place where servicemen can watch TV, sleep, eat snacks, drink coffee, check out movies and books, etc.

What has been the most rewarding about this experience so far, and how is it different than something you’d experience in everyday life?

Jason: I think most of the service members see the Red Cross office as being a little piece of home they can find each day. It’s nice to see people relax here after a long day’s work, and it’s nice to be a part of the place people come to for that comfort… And all of our food, snacks and everything are provided by donations from back home so everyone likes and appreciates that.

Hope: Just having the opportunity to be here has been super rewarding! [Since our time] at Fort Benning and the start of our time here, I have gotten the chance to see and experience a small part of what service members go through just to get in theater. My already great admiration for our service members has grown tenfold, and I’m looking forward to many opportunities to serve them over here!

To learn more about how the Red Cross serves members of the military, their families and our nation’s veterans, visit redcross.org/military.