American Red Cross: A friend in need

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- "Abby, you're dad went into cardiac arrest this morning..."

Like most service members, my experience with the American Red Cross didn't begin as a positive one because it began shortly after I received this message from my step dad.

I was standing in line to catch a flight back to my home town from Philadelphia International Airport. I had already been away for five weeks for pre-deployment training at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and was scheduled to deploy to Kabul, Afghanistan, in seven days. The stress of not knowing whether or not my dad was going to live or die was complicated by my advancing deployment date.

What I did know was that I needed to contact my supervisor as soon as possible. After I did, I hopped on a plane for a six-hour trip that seemed more like 20 hours, and finally made my way to the hospital where they had managed to stabilize my dad. As this worry passed, the other worry, my deployment, once again reared its head.

It wasn't that I didn't want to go, or felt I deserved to stay. I just didn't know what I was supposed to do, even after five years of listening, writing about and photographing various available Airman Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs. At the time, the memories that would have assisted my current situation were clouded by childhood memories of watching my dad work in the garage. Though he was stable, the fear that I would never be able to hear his voice again, even if it was just to hear him tease me about my driving skills, was foremost in my mind. Luckily, I didn't have to wait too long for guidance.

My brother, a lance corporal in the Marine Corps, was already flying back from his deployment to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, because he had been contacted by the  Red Cross.

That's when it finally dawned on me that I did know what to do, and the five years of MWR briefings finally returned to my memory.

The American Red Cross provides military families easier access to emergency communications overseas (in my brother's case) and stateside( in my case.) All I had to do was call the Red Cross at one single number, (877) 272-7337, the same number available for all military members and their families to use to initiate emergency communications.

With the assistance of the Red Cross, my first shirt, my supervisor, commanders and the doctors at the hospital, I was able to stay with my family and watch my dad make a full recovery.

This experience has taught me that when faced with family emergencies, military members like me and their families can contact the Red Cross to not only relay urgent messages to service members stationed anywhere in the world, they can also help people stay with their loved ones until they are again mentally prepared to deploy.

To contact the Red Cross, call (877) 272-7337 (toll-free within the continental United States) if you are:

-- An active duty service member stationed in the United States or overseas, or a family member residing with them
-- A family member of an active duty service member who does not reside in the service member's household
-- A Department of Defense civilian assigned overseas and family members residing with them
-- A member of the National Guard or Reserves
-- A recruiter or military entry processing center military personnel,
-- A Veteran

When calling the Red Cross, please provide as much of the following information about the service member as is known to include full name, rank/rating, branch of service, social security number, date of birth, military address and for deployed service members only: information about the deployed unit and home base unit.