MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Since the founding of the American Red Cross in 1881 by Clara Barton, known to many as the ‘Angel of the Battlefield’, the organization has played an important role during humanitarian crises and in support of the military.
For more than 100 years, the American Red Cross has been on the front lines, whether in Haiti, New Orleans, Iraq and even Missouri where volunteers are currently helping tornado victims. Now, in recognition of their hard work, March has been declared American Red Cross Month.
Aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, the American Red Cross’ influence and work has helped support the military’s mission, abroad and stateside for the past 68 years.
“Our top mission aboard the base is to provide our service to service members,” said Elizabeth Schirk, the senior station manager for the American Red Cross aboard the base. “We also provide for health and safety, disaster relief, blood and tissue collections and international social services.”
The American Red Cross offers classes on cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, babysitting, lifeguarding, wilderness safety and pregnancy.
For disaster relief, the organization helps victims get back on their feet, opens shelters and provides food and clothing.
“We also help victims get in touch with their families and host a ‘safe and well’ website so their families can see if a loved one is OK following a disaster,” said Schirk. “Disaster relief for us can be anything from a house fire to flooding and other natural disasters.”
Through the American Red Cross blood and tissue program, they are able to collect blood and tissue to be used by service members and victims of disasters.
The final mission is to support the International Red Cross, a neutral organization that can act as a mediator for warring countries and visits to prisoners of war.
For the American Red Cross located aboard the base, the main mission is focused around service members. With a 24–hour phone number, the organization can get in contact with a service member or their family, even if they are deployed.
“If a close relative is injured and in the hospital, we can get in contact with a service member’s command and, if recommended by a doctor, the command can grant the service member emergency leave,” said Schirk. “We’re also mobile and can help serve on deployments as well. I can remember sleeping on cots and having a hole in our wall, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.”
One of Barton’s famous quotes, “I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them,” can still be seen in the American Red Cross workers, many of which deploy alongside military units to provide comfort, reassurance and, if an emergency arises at home, provide assistance in the form of emergency leave.
“We were one of the few civilians on the ground when the Iraq invasion began, I was never afraid though, because I had the best military in the world and they would take care of me just like I took care of them,” said Schirk. “Once I returned to the states, we started working with the families, we were out there with their families and understood the issues they faced.”
The American Red Cross currently has three offices located in the Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, building 121E across from the Harriotte B. Smith Library, and a third branch office located on Marine Corps Air Station New River.
Each location has several volunteers who can help as filers, bookkeepers, lab assistants, teachers, and book cart attendants in the hospital. The American Red Cross even has a dentist who assists naval personnel.
“A majority of our work is done by volunteers,” said Schirk. “We have probably 100 volunteers right now, but are always looking for more. Without them, the American Red Cross would not be able to function. They’re a very important part of the organization.”
Some volunteers make a career out of it, like Schirk, who has served more than 40 years. Others do it to get out of their homes and contribute to the community, like Melanie Harris, a radiologic technologist volunteer at the hospital who volunteers through the American Red Cross to keep up with her skills and learn while waiting for a job to open up.
“I’ve been here since December,” said Harris. “I love it, and truly enjoy being here. As soon as I came in, they treated me like part of the team. I’m still learning and I think it’s a great way for people in my position who are awaiting for a job opening to stay involved in their fields.”
Another volunteer, Leah Puy, works clerical tasks in the naval hospital and said she’s been working since last May and wherever her husband gets orders to, she plans to find an American Red Cross and continue volunteering.
To donate or volunteer at any of the American Red Cross offices in the general area, call 451-2173 or visit building 121E.