By Heather Fay, American Red Cross, Services to the Armed Forces – Outreach and Education
As a military spouse of over 20 years, I liked to think I had always been aware of the American Red Cross and the services it offers military families. Over my husband’s Navy career, we were fortunate to never need to file an emergency message, so the Red Cross existed in the periphery of my military world among the other services available to military families.
When my husband became a ship commander and I felt a sense of responsibility to the families of the crew, or our ‘ship family,’ Red Cross support was something that moved a little closer to the forefront of my consciousness. More than one of our families needed to use messaging services and many (including my own) began working toward natural disaster preparedness with the help of Red Cross staff and volunteers. It wasn’t until our third overseas tour, to Yokosuka, Japan, that it became clear to me how much Red Cross services are needed when the unexpected happens.
First, we used Red Cross support to develop a preparedness brief for possible events on and around our base in Japan. For example, we practiced a family evacuation in the event any credible threats from a North Korea missile strike.
However, Japan in 2017 brought more than threats of missile strikes when our military community woke one morning to the news that one of our ships had been involved in a collision at sea with a commercial vessel. Immediately, the base community sprang into action to take care of whatever our military families needed. Red Cross employees and volunteers alike were there distributing information, helping the emergency response center field endless calls from the States and doing countless other things to serve our people. Those intense first hours and days led to a summer where the community banded together to support those who needed it, however they needed it. Service to one another was part of our new reality.
When my family returned to the United States in late 2017, memories of the summer were still fresh. Armed with experience and a recently earned Master of Public Health, I began to search for employment. After a short time, a position with Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) in Outreach and Education announced itself on LinkedIn and the decision to apply was an incredibly easy one. The recent service to my military community had opened my eyes to the need for increased awareness of what all Red Cross lines of service have to offer the military community. Being personally prepared for a natural disasteror security emergency meant it was easier to predict what others might need in moments of danger, tragedy and loss. Once officially on the Red Cross SAF team, I began promoting not just emergency messaging, but preparedness and our resiliency programs as well. That summer in Japan, I learned building a resiliency tool kit is deeply important to the well-being of a military community – even one as small as a single military family. Spreading the word of what the Red Cross SAF has offered to our military and their families is the single most satisfying thing I have experienced in my time as a Red Crosser.