2 minute readMilitary Support
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My First Deployment: The Experiences That Made it Worthwhile

Written by Phyllis Cohn, American Red Cross Regional Program Director in Ramstein, Germany.

SIPR, NAVCENT, AFSB, CJTF, DFAC … the list could go on. Acronyms that I had never heard of until six months ago. Now schooled in the language of military acronyms, I have a skill set that I never thought I’d have. Forget “A, B, C, D” … now it’s “Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta.” I wear my “cover” when I walk out of a building, 3:00 pm is 1500, and please don’t “SHARP” me. Who am I?????

I’m not with the Military, but I am a member of Team 38, proudly wrapping up a six-month deployment at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait for the American Red Cross. Though deployment is part of my job as a Regional Program Director, I have to admit that when I heard the words, “You’re going to Kuwait in July,” panic ensued, followed by every emotion ranging from anxiety to zealousness. Six months later, as I wrap up my deployment, there are only two words that describe my experience: life changing.

The Red Cross does ask a lot of you when you deploy. You leave your family, your pets, the comforts of home, the flexibility of movement. You work long hours, deal with unreliable Wi-Fi, and are asked to graciously embrace 125 degree heat. So why do this? Here are three experiences that made it all worth it.

We Give Service Members a Taste of Home
One day, we baked blueberry muffins, and the smell permeated the common area of the Camp Arifjan Resiliency Center. Like those in a hypnotic trance, service members wandered in, lured by the delicious aroma of something that could have come straight out of Mom’s kitchen. And for a few moments, they forgot that they were in the desert of Kuwait. We made that happen.

Red Crossers in front of the snack table during snack night at the Red Cross Resiliency Center

We Give Service Members Something to Celebrate
We had hundreds of stockings and garland hanging from the ceiling.  Twinkling lights cast a warm glow throughout the office. Christmas trees with wrapped presents adorned the office. Service members sat at tables to build gingerbread houses and paint murals of holiday memories. It felt almost as if we were celebrating the holidays back home in the U.S. We made that happen.

Volunteers stand in front of table full of treats during the Christmas holiday.

We Provide Important Information
In addition to boosting morale and resiliency, we also provide support during emergencies. One time, a service member’s father was in the hospital in critical condition. We had to deliver the emergency message and give Command enough information to make an informed decision about sending the service member home to say their good-byes. We made that happen.

Being a morale and resiliency hub for the community is not an easy task, and we can’t begin to do that without the dedication of our volunteers. From stranger to comrade, to friend, to family — that is the magical life cycle of our engagement with volunteers. For some, they are farther away from home than they have ever been. They’ve stumbled into a world of surrogate Moms and Dads. For others, who have families at home, they share in the angst of missing their kids’ birthdays and not being home to care for their sick children. Here at the Red Cross, they have found a new type of family. And we help make that possible.

Will I be happy to return home?  You bet I look forward to showering without shower shoes, eating food that is farm fresh and flavorful, driving my car, going to the movies, taking my dog for a hike, and of course, hugging my family. But this “job” has turned into a once-in-a-lifetime experience that shows me that my work with the Red Cross really matters. It’s how I make a difference. It’s also where the Red Cross mission to serve those who serve is at its purest. Truly life changing.

Phyllis hugging her friend and volunteer, Cheryl Searcy.