By Judy Abelman, Volunteer Contributor
A few weeks ago on yet another dreary February day, I took a road trip out to Fort Hood to learn more about Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces (SAF). Having never stepped foot on an army base, I had no idea what to expect.
The first thing that hits you is the sheer size of the base –38,000 troops that swells to 100,000 people when you count in all their dependents. No wonder it’s the second largest army base in the world. And it’s right here, just an hour outside of Austin in Killeen, Texas.
Gigi Winburn – an engaging Red Crosser who is a prior military spouse and proud Army mom – runs our office at Fort Hood. Gigi volunteered with the American Red Cross for 10 years before taking a staff job in Dallas in 2015 and then recently transferred to Fort Hood. She was thrilled to move back on base; she notes “When I first heard revelry, I knew I was home.”
Managing approximately 225 active volunteers on post and in the area, Gigi and her team are an integral part of life on the “installation” (you learn a new vocabulary when you visit an army base). This huge group of volunteers also provide thousands of man hours to the Carl R. Darnall Army Hospital.
Gigi gave us a tour of the huge installation and we saw first-hand the broad scope of services the Red Cross provides to our military. Sure, I knew about the emergency communication messages and the cards we distribute during holidays, but clearly there’s so much more.
Here are the top five things I never knew:
- Manifest volunteers – Anytime a serviceman or woman deploys, they leave from the same hangar on Ft. Hood. For safety reasons, their families aren’t allowed to be there when they depart … but the Red Cross is. No matter when they leave, day or night, Red Cross SAF volunteers are there with a warm cup of coffee and a friendly conversation.
- Dental assistant program – Military spouses find it challenging to have a career as they move so often. That can lead to frustration and pressure on the family. So the Red Cross stepped in and put together a dental assistant program right on post. Since its inception in 2009, the program has graduated 79 dental assistants, with 5 more graduating in June.
- Fisher House – Much like a Ronald McDonald house, the Fisher House Foundation builds comfort homes at military and VA centers around the world where military and veterans’ families can stay free of charge while a loved one is in the hospital. And that takes lots of volunteers—most of which are Red Cross Volunteers at the Fort Hood Fisher House.
- Books – From book drives to driving book carts, we’re on site at the Carl R. Darnall Army Hospital bringing books and magazines to hospital patients.
- Patient listening – Sometimes you just need a hand to hold and an ear to listen. Trained Red Cross volunteers step up all year long and meet with military patients and their families at the hospital to offer a listening ear and open heart.
If you’re interested in volunteering or learning more about the Service to Armed Forces, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.