By Gina Vaile
A woman sits in her car; ready to take her child to school so she can go to work. She turns the key in the ignition, but the car does not start. Another day, another problem … it all seems to happen when her husband is away. Some families may be able to take their car to the mechanic, but for some military families who are left stateside while their husbands are deployed overseas, the expense of an auto mechanic could mean choosing between groceries for the month or a working car.
“That bill was $700,” said Dawn Lewis, director of the Daniel Boone Chapter of the American Red Cross, referring to just one case she has seen in the past few weeks.
“When you’re on a fixed income in the military and you’ve expended all your money, you have to turn someplace for help,” she said. “Not many people just hand out money. We were able to write that person a check to help make up the difference in what it cost her to get her car fixed, basically to put that money back into her household budget.”
The Red Cross offers several services to military families, including monetary aid when emergencies occur. Aid is offered in loans, which are paid back, interest free, over the course of a year through the military personnel’s paycheck. Grants are also available for some circumstances.
Lewis said her office used to receive three or four phone calls per week. Now, seven to eight calls are received each day.
“Every case is so different. I had a lady contact me worried that her husband was on the Blackhawk helicopter that went down when four soldiers were killed,” Lewis said.
“She just knew that this was a possibility that it could be her husband, so we were able to contact the commanding officer of her husband’s unit and she was able to get communications back within two days that in fact he was OK,” she said.
According to Lewis, The Red Cross serves as communication line between families and their servicemen or women.
“It’s a neat system and it’s a huge network,” she said, noting The Red Cross is serving in seven countries providing messages from home to the battlefield or to other command posts around the world. She said most messages are received between two and 48 hours.
Most of the messages are relayed over the Internet to command posts. Commanding officers usually will have a chaplain deliver messages, because Lewis said, “when people are contacting their loved ones in the military it’s usually not for good reasons. Chaplains know what to say and how to handle it.”
Lewis said her office confirms all messages before sending them to the military installations. Volunteers contact funeral homes, hospitals and nursing homes before sending messages about illness or death to servicemen or women.
“We have to verify all facts. If someone is in the hospital, for example, and presence is recommended by a doctor, then we call the doctor and verify,” she said.
Lewis regrets this service is not available to girlfriends, boyfriends and other acquaintances of military personnel.
“We can’t provide address information to people who are not related,” Lewis said.
While services for military families are always available, Lewis said the Daniel Boone Chapter is encouraging Central Kentucky military families to take part in a “Get To Know Us Before You Need Us” program.
“It’s exactly what it says. You need to know what your Red Cross can do for you before your husband or wife is deployed. It’s a program where we actually go to the family briefings before soldiers deploy. Of course lately they’ve been pretty quick,” she said.
At the briefings, volunteers collect information necessary for contacting soldiers. Lewis suggests spouses, fiancs and family members know vital information such as middle initials, military ID numbers, social security numbers and military company information.
“You’d be surprised how many people don’t know all this information that they need to know,” Lewis said.
Lewis also recommends families create readiness plans to prepare for household emergencies. Simple things such as creating a family budget, learning where shut-off valves to gas and water lines are and creating a phone list of repair agencies in the area are all important. Also, Lewis said soldiers should make sure their legal affairs are in order and wills are created.
“It’s a really hard thing,” she said of deployments. “It’s best to be prepared.”
For more information on the Daniel Boone Chapter of The American Red Cross and the services it provides, contact Lewis or any volunteer at 986-4221.
A 24-hour emergency line is available for military emergency messages. That telephone number is 606-365-4502. Lewis notes that the line should remain open for emergencies and warns it is a direct line to the Lincoln County Emergency Operations Unit. While an operator may answer “911 what is your emergency,” callers should simply state they have a military emergency and need to speak with a Red Cross volunteer. Callers will be instructed from there.