JOINT BASE BALAD, IRAQ
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — More than 800 volunteers and supporters attended a ceremony marking March as American Red Cross Month, March 6 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
"In 1943, during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president to proclaim March as Red Cross Month, and called on Americans to ‘rededicate themselves to the splendid aims and activities of the Red Cross,’" said Air Force Col. Mark Koeniger, commander of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing and a Springfield, Va., native.
Koeniger said Roosevelt’s proclamation has become a tradition that has continued for the past 67 years, and he read it to declare March 2010 as Red Cross Month at JBB.
Every day, through its network of chapters, stations and more than one million volunteers, the American Red Cross is there to save the day when disaster strikes at home or abroad, said Koeniger.
"It is there when someone needs life-saving blood or the comfort of a helping hand," he said. "At Joint Base Balad, our local chapter relays military families’ emergency messages to the service members serving here."
The Red Cross has been established in Iraq since 2003, said Kenneth Romero, the JBB Red Cross Station manager. Iraq has two American Red Cross stations, one at JBB and the other in Baghdad. With four personnel assigned to each location, the Red Cross provides 24-hour support for deployed service members, he said.
Each year the president declares March as Red Cross Month, and the Red Cross Station at JBB wanted to hold an event to recognize the occasion, said Romero, a Denver native.
"We held our own celebration here at Joint Base Balad, to use Red Cross Month as an opportunity to bring awareness of (the) Red Cross and the services we provide," he said. "We came in with the idea to do something fun for the Soldiers, Airmen and [other] military members at Joint Base Balad."
Roughly 100 volunteers from the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing and other members of the JBB community volunteered to assist with the event, said Romero.
"We had all branches of service helping out with this event," he said.
Though the Red Cross provides morale and comfort services, their primary mission is to provide emergency communication between service members and their loved ones at home, said Romero
"If you’re a U.S. citizen over here supporting the military, Red Cross is here to serve as that link," he said.
If there has been a death or an illness in the family, or some other urgent situation, the Red Cross will verify that situation and get accurate information to the service member in country, said Romero.
The Red Cross has always been a strong supporter of deployed Soldiers, said 1st Sgt. Francis Halmsteiner, the senior enlisted adviser for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Graham, Wash., native.
They bridge the communication gap by providing phone cards and computer access for service members to talk to family and loved ones back home, said Halmsteiner.
The Red Cross has become a strong foundation for Soldiers’ morale, similar to the United Service Organizations, he said.
"The Red Cross benefits Soldiers, in case anything happens in the rear to family members," he said.
Halmsteiner said he is responsible for more than 350 Soldiers that fall under HHC, including the Guardsmen and reservists who augment the 13th ESC staff. He said he has dealt with more than 40 Red Cross messages during the 13th ESC’s time in theater.
An emergency does not only pertain to a death in the family, but also to a birth of a child, he said.
In some cases, Soldiers are authorized emergency leave to go home to assist their families during the time of emergency. The approval process can be completed and the Soldier headed home within 24 hours, he said.
Romero said it is the Red Cross’ secondary mission to bring a sense of home and comfort to deployed personnel. With a fresh pot of coffee, a book to read and 24-hour internet access, the Red Cross does its best to support those serving overseas, he said.
The Red Cross Station at JBB features the Legacy Room, which is dedicated to special-life events for expecting fathers who are unable to be home, said Romero. The Legacy Room allows them to witness the birth of their children via the internet, he said.
"New dads can stand by their wives virtually, as they welcome a new child into the world," he said.
The military community depends on the American Red Cross and, because it is not a government agency, the Red Cross depends on support from the public to continue its humanitarian work, said Koeniger.
"I encourage all Americans to support this organization and its noble humanitarian mission," he said.
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