MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- The American Red Cross was founded in 1881 and to this day is the largest volunteer organization in America that provides emergency assistance, disaster relief and education. Certain areas of the organization work closely with the armed forces, providing emergency and non-emergency services to the military.
Niki McBain, Combat Center’s American Red Cross station manager who just returned from a six-month deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, has been volunteering her time to the American Red Cross since she was 13 years old.
“I can recall when I became a volunteer nearly down to the exact minute,” said McBain, a Jensen Beach, Fla., native. “August 24, 1992 – my family and I were evacuated from Florida to Georgia during Hurricane Andrew.”
After they were evacuated, McBain and her mother were driving toward their destination when Andrew hit Georgia. As her mother pulled into an underpass to avoid any hazards and commented they should go to the American Red Cross for assistance, McBain said she didn’t want to be considered homeless.
“My mom told me that I could work there instead,” said McBain. “After I started volunteering there, it turned my life around.”
After years of volunteering with the American Red Cross, McBain went to college and became an English teacher for the seventh grade at Forest Grove Middle School in Florida. Two years later she moved to Philadelphia, applying for a job at
the American Red Cross office.
While working with the American Red Cross, McBain helped reunite many families separated from disasters, including World War II Holocaust victims.
“She is a valuable asset to the American Red Cross,” said Stephanie Jacobson, Combat Center’s American Red Cross remote worker at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. “It can be 4:30 [p.m.] and everybody wants to go home but she is still there with a smile on her face. It can be two in the morning and she would still be happy to be at work.”
Before she moved to the Combat Center, McBain had helped provide relief from over 100 natural disasters and more than 8,000 single family disasters.
For her hard work, McBain was promoted to Chapter Solutions Manager and moved to Virginia where she was in charge of managing the American Red Cross budget.
By 2006, McBain was feeling disconnected from the American Red Cross’ true meaning since she was not working with clients. Wanting to feel like she was helping again, she decided to work with the military.
“The war had already started, and I felt a need to help out,” said McBain. “I told myself ‘If I don’t do this now I am never going to do it.’”
A year later, the American Red Cross sent McBain to the Combat Center to work as the station manager, train volunteers and assist with emergency messages. She worked closely with volunteers and service members, trying to help as many people as possible.
“The energy in the room is so much higher when she is there,” said Brandy Hunter, American Red Cross volunteer records chair. “She encourages everyone to do their best.”
Jacobson agreed with Hunter saying McBain inspires others to perform their best in everything they do.
“She motivates others, it doesn’t matter if they are volunteers, managers or an entire organization,” said Jacobson. “She is very enthusiastic and very professional, which is a really infectious quality.”
In February, McBain, now 30 years old, was told it was her turn to deploy to Iraq with the troops. While deployed she stayed at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. During her six-month deployment, she worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day to ensure every emergency situation was taken care of immediately.
“She came back home and had so much to teach us,” said Hunter, a Boise, Idaho, native. “It is great that she was able to experience first-hand what our military goes through every day.”
McBain and just three other volunteers managed an area in Iraq north of Baghdad and all of southern Iraq. During her deployment she processed 1,000 emergency messages a week.
“While she was gone she worked so hard for the men and women deployed,” said Hunter. “She gave the service members a chance to e-mail and call home, and she made it seem easy to deliver emergency messages.”
During her deployment she helped create Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs in Baghdad. She also helped build an internet café aboard Camp Liberty that is now open to all service members.
“Some of the units had access to the internet but weren’t able to give access to the general public,” said McBain, who also opened a phone center and handed out free phone cards.
After her deployment, McBain came back to the Combat Center American Red Cross and instructed her volunteers in everything she had learned while deployed.
“It was great to interact with other services,” said McBain. “Everything I learned from them, I can come back and train my volunteers and broaden their spectrum in the other services.”
McBain said she will continue to serve aboard the Combat Center for the next four years, and is scheduled to deploy again in two.