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American Red Cross messages keep Marines in touch during hard times

19 Sep 2008 | Lance Cpl. Monica C. Erickson

The Combat Center’s American Red Cross Chapter helps keep service members informed when they are stationed away from home in the event of a birth, death or a serious or critical illness in their immediate family.

            For decades the Red Cross has kept families informed by relaying family emergency messages to the service members. This valuable service offers peace-of-mind when military men and women need it most – when family members back home need them due to medical reasons or natural disasters that impact their families. Although there are certain requirements before a message can be sent however.

            The Red Cross can only send messages to service members regarding someone in their immediate family, which includes the service member’s spouse, children, parents, grandparents or grandchildren.

            “There are always exceptions to this rule,” said Niki McBain, the Combat Center’s American Red Cross station manager. “We have had a case where we sent a message to a Marine because his cousin died. Normally we wouldn’t do that, but this specific Marine grew up in the same house with his cousin, which made the cousin part of the Marine’s immediate family.”

            The American Red Cross also needs to speak to the sender of the message to ensure they want to notify the service member. When the service member is notified they are capable of taking emergency leave to visit their family member in need.

            “We have to verify a message before it is sent,” said McBain. “If the message is not verified when sent, it is up to the Marine’s command if they want to send them on emergency leave.”

            The only reason an American Red Cross emergency message will not be verified is if it is from a different country that does not have a Red Cross station, continued McBain.

When a family member is injured or ill, the American Red Cross must speak with the hospital or doctor treating the family member to find out the diagnosis, prognosis, life expectancy and the doctor’s recommendation for the service member’s presence before sending a message.

Gunnery Sgt. Randall McMillon, with the Marksmanship Training Unit, had to go home on emergency leave after receiving a Red Cross message stating his parents had fallen ill from old age.

“The Red Cross was very timely getting the message to me,” said McMillon, a Dayton, Tenn., native. “As soon as the message posted I was notified and was able to take emergency leave.”

            Messages can also be sent to service members if they are the victim of sexual battery and at risk for a sexually transmitted disease.

            “In the case of informing a service member about their blood work and a possible STD, we will leave a message with the duty officer for that specific service member to call us back so it doesn’t become general knowledge,” said McBain.

            The organization has also stopped sending health and welfare messages, which were sent to service members if their family was trying to get ahold of them and were unable to for an extended period of time.

            “We stopped sending those because of today’s technology,” said McBain, a Jensen Beach, Fla., native. “If a Marine wants to stay in contact with his family, he can

very easily stay in contact with them without our help.”

            They also send pre-birth announcements to soon-to-be fathers who are deployed, although the service member must be on a year-long deployment and capable of taking rest and relaxation leave during his deployment.

            Cpl. Robert DuBord, a supply noncommissioned officer clerk for Exercise Support Division and a volunteer caseworker for the base’s American Red Cross said

birth messages are the best announcements they send.

             “It is always a good feeling when you get to tell a Marine he is a father,” said DuBord, an Escanaba, Mich., native. “It also makes [the wife] happy when you are able to provide a point of contact for the father and get them in contact during the birth.”

            Their in-labor messages can only be sent if both the deployed service member and the spouse have the capability to be linked together through video or a phone call.

            For more information from Combat Center's American Red Cross Chapter call 830-6685.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms