Red Cross helps keep overseas soldiers, families in touch

Now that war with Iraq is raging, the American Red Cross will play a vital role in maintaining the morale of American fighting men and women abroad, continuing a historical part the organization has played in conflicts past.

Stationed around the world alongside U.S. troops, Red Cross workers provide communications so that soldiers can reach their families on opposite ends of the globe. Advanced communications systems utilized by the organization allow them to put the fighting men and women in touch with loved ones back home.

If a baby is born, or a relative dies, the Red Cross will contact a soldier to inform that person of the news.

Financial help for military families is available, as are counseling services, referrals, and other forms of help. The Red Cross offers many orientation sessions to inform soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors on how best to access these services.

“Our servicemembers appreciate the expressions of support — it has been a significant boost to their morale,” said Maj. Sandra Troeber, spokeswoman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The organization’s Prince William chapter will work to contact soldiers in the field, if there is news to be shared.

“If indeed there is a death, we try to arrange with the commanding officers, trying to get military members back to be with family,” said Karen Wayne, executive director of the American Red Cross’ Prince William chapter.

In any type of conflict, the Red Cross provides tracing services as well. For example, if an Iraqi immigrant in Prince William County wants to find out about a relative in his homeland, the organization will try to find that person and report back on his or her welfare.

Red Cross officials don’t expect to change the services they provide now that war is on — just to provide them with increased frequency, Wayne said.

At the Prince Riyadh air base in Saudi Arabia, U.S. and British military personnel suffer in the oppressive agony of the relentless heat.

At times, temperatures there top 110 degrees. And the base, at its best, resembles a giant parking lot, some say. In addition to the constant air traffic and smell of highly volatile jet fuel filling the thick air, military personnel must share their temporary home with the local, yet unwelcome wildlife.

Prince Riyadh is inhabited by a number of spiders, scorpions, and snakes — and is far from an amicable living situation. The base is ugly, and uncomfortable, according to some at the Red Cross.

To ease the discomfort, and make the soldiers feel more at home, Red Cross volunteers organize socials, ice cream events, and intramural sports activities. They also import goods from local chapters throughout the nation that are donated by community residents everywhere in America — including Prince William County.

This kind of thing happens at every base where allied troops are staged.

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