Illinois to Djibouti: Staff Member, Kelsey Smith Deploys to Support our Armed Forces

The American Red Cross has a history of supporting our armed forces that dates back to our founder Clara Barton, who provided assistance to soldiers during the Civil War. Today, the Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces delivers support to over one million active-duty personnel and over one million members of the National Guard across the United States. The Red Cross also ensures that veterans and military families are receiving the proper assistance they deserve. Along with these services, the Red Cross also helps military installations around the world.

Kelsey during her 2018 deployment during California wildfires

Kelsey Smith is a staff member on the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) team of the Illinois Red Cross region and is one of 200 mobile SAF personnel across the country. Kelsey is mainly involved in volunteer management and in her two years with the Red Cross, she has been working closely with over 130 volunteers who assist with Service to the Armed Forces. Kelsey, will be deploying to Djibouti to support our armed forces on the ground this August.

“My (current) job is making sure volunteers are happy, because the Red Cross work force is 90 percent volunteers and only 10 percent of paid staff,” Kelsey says. “We want to make sure that the volunteers feel fulfilled in their role and that they feel supported.”

Kelsey comes from a military family which is what prompted her to be interested in this role at the organization. This trip will be unique for Kelsey as it will be her first-time teaching CPR to soldiers. Although she is nervous about traveling far from home, she is excited about the opportunity to work abroad and provide support to members of our military.

Kelsey donating during a 2019 blood drive

“It will be really interesting to understand the experience of the service members,” Kelsey says. “Just because they have so many unique challenges and struggles that they go through, and I am very excited just to further the mission of the Red Cross while I am there.”

Kelsey leaves on August 23rd, flying from Baltimore to Germany on a military plane. But before she arrives in Djibouti, she will undergo orientation to prepare for her deployment. During orientation, she will receive her uniform, equipment for Djibouti, and will do casework training. She’ll arrive in Djibouti in mid-September and stay until mid-March of 2021.

While she’s there, Kelsey will assist with morale-boosting activities for service men and women such as 4K races, and movie nights. She will also be managing and distributing in-kind donations to soldiers, and providing emergency communication services for service members who may need to quickly travel home to a family member in need. Kelsey believes that the presence of the Red Cross on base will have a positive effect on soldiers during these critical times.

“Obviously during times of COVID-19, I think this process is probably even harder than usual because you don’t know if your family is safe, you don’t know that your kids are safe, you don’t know that you are safe, yourself,” Kelsey says. “I think, above all, just knowing that the Red Cross is there is comforting.”

While assisting active service members is a large part of the effort, the Red Cross also supports veterans and military families. This includes providing referral services for veterans and assisting with veteran appeals. During a difficult deployment, the Red Cross will provide military families with courses that allow them to cope with deployment, as well as pre-deployment preparedness information. The Red Cross also helps families stay in contact with an armed force family member wherever they are deployed. Kelsey believes the Red Cross offers more than just supplies or skills to soldiers. It provides trust.

“I think people count on the Red Cross for a comforting presence, and it also makes people feel better knowing they can be in communication with their family,” Kelsey says. “I think it is important that someone is there just so that the service members feel constantly supported.”

For more information on how the Red Cross supports the armed forces click here.

Written by David Astudillo, Marketing and Communications Intern

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