Emergency Communications: How the Red Cross Supports Military Members and Their Families

By Sydney Stokes/American Red Cross of Alaska

The American Red Cross of Alaska supports military members, veterans and their families through the Service to the Armed Forces program, which provides critical community services such as resiliency and reconnection workshops for service members and their families, Holidays for Heroes events, and assistance at Veterans and military hospitals. Locating family members and loved ones to deliver notifications regarding family members in the military is another vital service that the program takes great pride in.

Those who serve or have served in the military carry the love and support from their families. This brings unique challenges to parents, children, and other family members with close military personnel relationships. Deployment, finances, and mental health challenges contribute to stress and depression among some military families. Aiding these individuals and their families has been a focus of the Red Cross since World War I. 

December 17, 2019. Louisville, Kentucky. Hero Care Call Center. Photo by Bill Wine/American Red Cross

If a service member or Department of Defense employee needs to have a message sent out to family members or loved ones, the first step is to call the Red Cross Hero Care Center (HCC). The crisis communication runs through the Hero Care Network, and the Hero Care Center receives the necessary information, such as the service members’ name, unit and phone number, along with what the emergency is about (it could be a birth, death, or severe injury). The HCC then verifies that the emergency is valid and, in turn, calls the unit that the service member is assigned to. It is then up to command if the service member will be granted the leave.

Rita Conley, Red Cross of Alaska Service to the Armed Forces Regional Program Manager, integrates her committed connection to military families and veterans through this casework process.

“As follow up caseworkers, we are the ones reaching out to the families to see if the service member was granted leave or if they have talked to their loved one before they passed,” Conley said. “Some cases get you right in the heart and make you thankful that your loved ones are here with you.”

Conley appreciates the military lifestyle due to her personal experiences. She served over 21 years in the Air Force, starting fresh out of high school. Conley enjoys the moments when clients are happy with the program’s services. This can range from handing out clothes to newborns to following up on emergency messages.

Rita Conley with her family following her retirement ceremony. Conley served 21 years in the U.S. Air Force.

Leslie Robertson is also a caseworker with the Service to the Armed Forces Hero Care Network. She has experience in behavioral health and as an art therapist, which she incorporates into her Red Cross volunteering position.

“Mostly, I am contacting the service member or their family once their emergency has been processed to make sure they have all their questions answered and, if not, I get them in contact with others who can provide the help they need,” Robertson said. “Volunteer work is a great opportunity to do this.”

Robertson also has a close connection with military families from her father, who served in the Air Force for 23 years, and two uncles who served in the Army.

“My advice towards working with the Service to the Armed Forces program would be to connect with those who give you strength and pass it on to those who might need a kind word and an open ear,” Robertson said.

To learn more about American Red Cross emergency communications and the Hero Care network, visit redcross.org. To download the free American Red Cross Hero Care App, visit redcross.org/apps.

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