Services to Armed Forces: In war zones even heroes need consoling

by Sarah Forgany / KENS 5 San Antonio: Click here for link to KENS website. 

SAN ANTONIO — Imagine being isolated 7,000 miles away from family, friends, everything you’ve grown up to know your entire life. It’s not far fetched. It’s the life thousands of young American men and women are living now, to protect us, to fight for our freedom.

The men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are American heroes, but even heroes need consoling at times.

In a war zone – that sense of comfort is often given by a support team of Red Cross volunteers like Natalie Holbrook.
“I have lived nearly 12 years overseas, from 1998 – 2010 in Japan, England, Germany and now Kuwait,” Holbrook said.

Holbrook spent four months in Kuwait this year before returning home to San Antonio. She has had a passion for helping people, and she was able to do just that. Her job in the Middle Eastern country was to pass emergency communication messages between soldiers, contractors and their families.  

“Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, the Red Cross sends emergency communications to deployed service members on behalf of their family,” Holbrook said. “They relay urgent messages.

Holbrook is a paid staff member of the services to Armed Forces department of the American Red Cross.

The job is not easy. She recalls working for months without a day off, in harsh conditions, hot weather, sandstorms, small rooms and shared showers.

“One has to be willing to learn the ins and outs of working within a structured military environment as well,” she said. “We sometimes deal with emotionally distraught service members worried about their loved ones. Our job is to listen and let them vent.”

One moment stands out in her mind. Holbrook says she will never forget the young sailor who had just learned the news of his grandfather’s death.
“I sat him down and started a case,” she recalled. “The next day he was on a plane headed back to Wisconsin. He was able to go on emergency leave to attend the funeral. When he returned he said he was very grateful to us for our small part in helping him get home. I still keep in touch with him.”

The Kuwait office is very significant in this respect, Holbrook said. It is the gateway country from which all service members enter theater. Red Cross volunteers are able to track the exact whereabouts of an individual and unit during transit.

But when she’s not dealing with emergencies, Holbrook says they set up morale events such as fun runs, and movie days. They ran the HIDE AWAY OASIS, a canteen service shop that carried books, coffee, snacks, two flat-screen televisions, DVDs, and lending library games.

“We also hand out donated items such as razors, shaving cream, cookies, games, all donated by the American public,” Holbrook said.
The Red Cross provides services to more than 2.5 million active duty military personnel, the National Guard and Reserves and their families.

“No person would be able to perform a job or properly function through their day knowing their families are in distress,” she added.

For Holbrook, the experience is emotionally rewarding, because even the strongest of men and women need comforting, Holbrook said. They need to know their families are safe.

“We support the service members and other DOD affiliates because they are humans beings and not because of the uniform they wear or the job they do,” Holbrook said.

While not on the job, Holbrook is a Red Cross health and safety instructor and volunteer at the San Antonio chapter. Soon she says she’ll be heading to Germany to back-fill for another staff member going to Iraq.

Many may consider Holbrook a hero herself. She’s helped hundreds of our uniformed men and women get through the toughest of times, in a land far far away from home.

But Holbrook admits she’s the one that walked out of this experience with emotional rewards, and making amazing friends.

The best part about it all?

“Honestly, I can’t say,” she said. “It was all great.” or call 224-5151 and ask for services to the Armed Forces.

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