Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Service to the Armed Forces: Helping Military Members, Veterans, and their Families

Written by: Stephanie Babyak, Communications Volunteer

SAF Regional Specialist, Tommy Bolin  
Senior SAF Regional Specialist Tommy Bolin spends his work day helping military members, veterans, and their families. One vet struggles with PTSD, a wife needs to reach her husband posted overseas to let him know of a death in the family, another needs housing. However, in late Fall 2020, a most unique case landed on his desk, a mystery involving a World War II Navy war hero and an all-out effort to reunite his family with his personal effects. 

Two years ago, Chris Reilly’s daughter, an officer in the U.S. Army, completed a tour of duty at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State and moved home to her parents while she attended graduate school. The moving van shipping her belongings and those of other soldiers traveled the country from the West Coast to the final destination of the Reilly home in Delaware, making stops along the way. At the Reilly's, everything remaining in the truck was unloaded. 

As Chris and his daughter culled through the piles of boxes, they uncovered a large, leather briefcase that neither of them recognized. Inside the unlocked briefcase were letters the Navy vet had written to his finance, along with his passport, driver's license, and military medals and citations, including a Silver Star Medal, the U.S. Armed Forces decoration for valor in combat.


“If you read those letters, you’re reliving history and understanding what it was like to be in World War II because, as you know, most of the World War II vets are no longer with us.”


Army veteran Chris Reilly 
Determined to return the Navy hero’s personal effects to his family, Chris contacted agency after agency 
 the moving company, insurance company, Navy Personnel Command, Veterans of Foreign War, the Veterans Administration – all with no luck. Because Chris was not family and lacked legal authorization, privacy laws prevented the agencies from sharing information. Then someone suggested Chris contact the American Red Cross.

“I called the 1-800 RED CROSS number, they assigned me a case number, and said someone would contact me," said Chris. 

The briefcase contained the Navy hero's personal effects,
including a Silver Star medal and letters to his fiancé.

Based in Wilmington, Tommy Bolin was first assigned the case. Then, the San Diego Red Cross office also got involved as the WWII vet, who died in 1993, was from San Diego. Working with the Red Cross and a genealogist, Chris finally connected with the Navy veteran’s nephew who accepted the briefcase, letters, and medals.

This story is an example of the many ways the American Red Cross helps military members, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to, the challenges of military service. 

Since 9/11, the Red Cross has served more than 1 million military families. Service to the Armed Forces volunteers provide home comforts and critical services on bases and in military hospitals around the world. We support military families during deployments and emergencies and we continue serving our nation’s veterans after their service ends. 

NC&GCR Red Crossers distributed stockings from Operation Quiet
Comfort and the Red Cross at a holiday event at Walter Reed
National Military Medical Center.

The Service to the Armed Forces program in the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region (NC&GCR) supports military personnel, veterans, and families on 27 separate military installations in the region, at five Veteran’s Administration Hospitals, and throughout the community. Key installations supported include: Fort Meade, Quantico Marine Corps Base, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Fort Belvoir, Joint Base Andrews, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, the US Naval Academy, and the Pentagon. 

There is a team of over 1,000 active volunteers supporting the SAF mission throughout the region. 

Volunteers range from civilian to active duty, from administrative through PhD, RN and MD who practice to the full extent of their credentials. During the summer months, we add a robust program of youth volunteers with our VolunTeen programs. 

Here are some of the key ways the American Red Cross helps military and their families: 

  • Last fall, volunteers delivered Girl Scout
    cookies, stress balls comfort kits, and
    e-cards  to raise morale and support our
    military partner and veteran communities.
    Financial Assistance: The Red Cross partners with the military aid societies to help service members and their families get emergency financial assistance 24/7. 
  • Information and Referral Services: The Red Cross provides counseling, guidance, information, referrals and other social services for all military personnel and their families. 
  • Deployment Services: Before, during, and after deployments, the Red Cross provides training information, and support for military members and their families. 
  • Resiliency/Reconnection Workshops: The American Red Cross has developed the Reconnection Workshops for all military families to assist them with managing the challenges of reintegration, and to
    help them build resiliency skills that make it easier to rebound from setbacks and difficulties. Click here to learn more.
  • Holidays for Heroes: Holidays for Heroes offers individuals, corporations and community entities (church/temple groups, schools, community centers, etc.) the opportunity to support the unique work that the American Red Cross in the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region is doing for the local military and veteran community. Click here to learn more.

The American Red Cross has also launched a new online, self-service tool called the Hero Care Network. This free tool gives military families more flexibility and expanded access to help during times of crisis by allowing them to quickly communicate emergency messages 24/7 via computer, tablet, or even by smartphone. 

To download the free Hero Care App to get access vital emergency and non-emergency resources for military members, veterans and military families.  Or text: "GETHEROCARE" to 90999 


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You can join us too!

  • To learn more about the Service to the Armed Forces programs, click here
  • Make a difference in your community. Click here to become a Red Cross volunteer. 
  • Click here to learn more about donating blood with the American Red Cross near you. 

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