FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Current American Red Cross caseworkers and their predecessors have been making the link between United States service members and their families in emergency situations since World War I.

Every day, emergency messages originate or are delivered here at Fort Jackson. Last year, Fort Jackson handled 1,170 cases. That number includes both incoming messages and those originated here.

A special program, in place since 2000, facilitates reaching out to new members of the active forces as well as members of the National Guard and the Reserves. The "Get to Know Us Before You Need Us" program has the goals of educating service members and families before an emergency happens as well as providing information and referrals to other services available to military members and their families.

This program is a joint effort, cooperatively shared between the American Red Cross stations operating on military posts and the civilian American Red Cross chapters in the communities close to the Reserve and National Guard units.

At Fort Jackson, the American Red Cross plays a role in the Family Day presentations to the new Basic Combat Training graduates and families, explaining the program and providing materials and information.

For many family members, this information will help them efficiently reach their service member if the need arises in the future. This presentation stresses to service members that they or their families can call the Red Cross for assistance day or night. A family only needs to place a call to the local Red Cross Chapter or the toll-free number to get the emergency notification process started without delay. This is especially reassuring to families of new Soldiers, many of whom are single and living away from home for the first time. Similar training is available to any group interested in the local area.

The program's goals include reaching out to military families so they understand the multitude of services the Red Cross offers to meet their needs, beyond the emergency message service. Local chapters may be able to help family members with information on such issues as coping with separation, dealing with financial problems or other issues that might arise while the service member is deployed. This is especially helpful for Reserve and National Guard families or active duty families not living near a military base. These services are extended via a network of Red Cross staff and volunteers in chapters in the United States and on military installations worldwide.

Aside from many of the Red Cross' traditional services, such as managing the largest blood donor service in the United States and educational and certification programs in CPR, first aid and water safety, the American Red Cross chapters in the civilian communities are able to provide many other services tailored to military personnel and their immediate families. For families living far away from military bases and unfamiliar with the military jargon, such as those of activated National Guard and Reserve units this help can be invaluable. Often, they do not have easy access to the resources available on military installations and the local Red Cross chapter can provide that link.

At times, an emergency goes beyond getting a message to a service member, and when needed, the local Red Cross can collaborate with the military aid societies to provide access to financial assistance. The Red Cross also provides information and referral services. At times of high deployments, some chapters have sponsored family support groups for deployed units that are isolated from regular installation support.

The most common service for the military remains emergency notification messages. Many of these Red Cross validated messages result in the granting of emergency leave, if possible. Critical in making this system work is accurate information on the Soldier (Social Security number and date of birth) and unit. Service members can help by keeping their families in the loop on their current duty station and actual unit of assignment rather than just a mailing address. Families should be sure to keep a record of their Soldiers' information. "Notifications are often unnecessarily delayed when families cannot provide this complete information," said Nalan Miles of the Fort Jackson American Red Cross Office.

Sometimes, help from the Red Cross leads people to become volunteers. Sgt. 1st Class May Jones from the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Jackson volunteers with the Red Cross as an introduction to doing information and outreach work.

"In 1990 when I was a young private stationed in Germany, my husband's mother suffered a massive stroke and was in critical condition," Jones said. "My sister-inlaw immediately notified the Red Cross and they verified the information to my husband's commander and mine as well. Within a couple of days, we were on a plane headed to the U.S. to see her. Without the help of the Red Cross, this return home would not have been possible."

Accessing Red Cross Assistance

Access to Red Cross emergency communications services for military members and their families is available as follows:

 Active duty service members stationed in the United States and their immediate family members may call Service to the Armed Forces Centers, or SAF Centers, for help around the clock. The toll-free number is (877) 272-7337.

 Other family members who do not reside in the service member's household, members of the National Guard and Reserves, retirees and civilians may access Red Cross services through their local Red Cross chapter, which is listed in local telephone books and at

 Overseas personnel stationed on military installations should call base or installation operators or the on-base Red Cross office.

 If deployed, contact the American Red Cross team at your supporting location in Kuwait.

The American Red Cross provides briefings on the emergency communication process and other services to units or family support groups. There are also some trained volunteers who present this material regularly. For more information, call 751-4329, email or visit the Red Cross office at 9810 Lee Road.