The American Red Cross has a long history of providing support to members of the United States armed forces.
One of its newer efforts is the "Get to Know Us" program, an information resource for families of deployed servicemembers. The program's goal is to inform military families about the multitude of services the Red Cross offers to meet their needs, such as how to cope with separation issues and instructions on how to reach deployed loved ones in case of an emergency.
"It is a program designed specifically for the National Guard and Reserves, folks that are in the military but are not near a major military base," Julie Burger, a member of the American Red Cross national board of governors, said.
Many National Guard and Reserve families live in civilian communities, and "some of these families are not used to the military jargon," she said.
Burger added that the Get to Know Us program has been a great asset to military families during the global war on terror and credited its success with the fact that the program was developed and initiated prior to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"When 9/11 hit and all the National Guard and Reserve members were deployed, the Red Cross was in a very good position to help those families left behind," Burger said. "We had everything in place to care for military families, where other programs had to ramp up."
For instance, the organization's Armed Forces Emergency Services gave military family members an immediate means to contact deployed troops to inform them of an emergency, like a dying family member. The Red Cross can send emergency messages to servicemembers anywhere in the world, including to ships at sea, embassies and isolated military units, she said.
According to the American Red Cross Web site, "These communications are delivered around -the clock, seven days a week, 365 days a year."
The Red Cross verifies the authenticity of the message before passing it through military channels. This verification process is very helpful to military commanders, Burger said. "That's the beauty of the Red Cross, and that's why a commander anywhere can trust that if it's a Red Cross message, the situation is verified," she said.
The program is expansive, with volunteers working in more than 900 Red Cross chapters in the U.S. and at military installations around the world, she said. In 2004, the program provided 769,084 emergency communications.
Aside from many of its traditional services, like running the largest blood-donor service in the United States and educational training programs in first aid, water safety and CPR, the American Red Cross provides many other services to military personnel.
"We have many other programs to help the families of deployed soldiers," Burger said.
Some of these programs include financial assistance and counseling. According to the Red Cross Web site, financial assistance can run the gamut from emergency travel expenditures to utility payments.
Red Cross chapters throughout the country also encourage local businesses to provide free or discounted services to military families, such as oil changes, haircuts and legal advice, Burger said.
Historically, the American Red Cross has had close ties with the U.S. military. "We have had a long-standing relationship with the Department of Defense. We have an excellent working relationship, not only at the operational level but at the government's level as well," Burger said.
This has been evidenced by the recent efforts along the Gulf Coast to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The National Guard helped the Red Cross transport supplies and guarded shelters during the aftermath of the hurricane, she said.
A member of Joint Staff is also appointed by the president to sit on the Red Cross board, and Red Cross workers are often deployed with troops to combat zones, so they understand many of the hardships faced by those in uniform, Burger said.