FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Many people connected with the military know that American Red Cross military support dates back more than a century, when Red Cross founder Clara Barton began her humanitarian work on the battlefields of the Civil War. Barton, in addition to nursing the ill and injured, provided a conduit for emergency communications and reconnected families with military loved ones.

The Red Cross mission remains exactly the same 150 years later. Although technology has sparked remarkable advances, the Red Cross has stayed the course of Barton's original vision: rapid and accurate emergency communication services, care for the ill and wounded and service to military families.

To carry out its mission, the Red Cross has a network of hundreds of local chapters and more than 1,500 offices around the world -- including sites in Afghanistan and Kuwait -- with thousands of volunteers from a variety of backgrounds. When an American military family experiences a crisis, the American Red Cross is there to assist by providing emergency communications around the clock. The Red Cross relays urgent messages containing accurate, factual, complete and verified descriptions of the emergency to service members stationed anywhere in the world, including ships at sea, embassies and remote locations.

Red Cross emergency communications services keep military personnel in touch with their families following the death or serious illness of an immediate family member, the birth of a service member's child or grandchild or when a family experiences other emergencies.

Today, many service members initially hear directly of an emergency through an email or a phone call. However, Red Cross still plays a vital role. Red Cross-verified information assists commanding officers in making a decision regarding emergency leave. Without this verification, the service member may not be able to come home during a family emergency.

Heather Williams is a Red Cross emergency communications volunteer who drives from Greenwood two days a week to volunteer at Fort Jackson. She said she finds her time working with the Soldier and Family Assistance Center and her work doing emergency communications rewarding. Her emergency communications work is done sitting at a computer with a phone nearby, however, she still feels connected to the service members involved.

Jim Nielsen, a retiree who has worked as an emergency communication volunteer for the last three years explained the process of contacting the Red Cross for assistance. He said that eligible people should call (877) 272-7337, which is toll-free within the continental United States.

The service is available to:

-- Active duty service members stationed in the United States or overseas, or family members residing with them;

-- Family members of an active duty service member who does not reside in the service member's household;

-- DoD civilians assigned overseas and family members residing with them;

-- Members of the National Guard or Reserves;

-- Recruiters and Military Entry Processing Station military personnel;

-- Veterans.

When calling the Red Cross, please provide as much of the following information about the service member as is known, such as full name; rank/rating; branch of service (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard or DoD Civilian or contractor); Social Security number; date of birth; and military address.

Nielsen said the Red Cross will also need to know details of the emergency, to include the names and numbers of organizations who can verify the facts such as doctors, hospitals or funeral homes.

Being well-prepared before you call will make the call much more efficient. Remember, accurate and complete information ensures quicker verification and quicker delivery of the information to the service member's unit and his or her commander.