Friday, May 17

Volunteer Finds Unlikely Hero in Red Cross

Volunteer Finds Unlikely Hero in Red Cross

By Jamie Black, with narrative from Amy Poffenberger

The American Red Cross has provided humanitarian support to the United States military, veterans and their families under a trusted symbol for more than 130 years. Through the Service to the Armed Forces program, the Red Cross provides emergency communications, supports military and veteran health care facilities, and provides social services to the more than 2 million military members to include National Guard and Reservists, 23 million veterans and their families. The Red Cross is able to provide these services through employees and volunteers who are stationed alongside the military, across the country and around the world. This includes a network of Red Cross Chapters and Stations that have offices on domestic installations as well as supporting service members, veterans and their families who are located in communities across the country and who may not be near a military installation.

In 2012, the Red Cross provided nearly 320,000 emergency communication services to 131,000 military members and their families. Receiving a message or a phone call from a loved one serving overseas can bring smiles to their children’s faces and tears of joy to their spouses. Over a decade ago, one of our own local volunteers was waiting for a call from her son who was serving in Bosnia that never came. Read on to discover Amy’s story about how an unlikely hero would reconnect her family in their time of need…

“In April 2001, I was to receive a call from my son to let me know where to wire funds for an upcoming leave. He was going to celebrate his birthday in Macedonia with a four day leave with other soldiers from his unit. The days before his birthday, the day of and a couple of days after came and went with no contact from my son. Our previous contact had been intermittent and always initiated by Shawn. Here I was without any phone numbers, computer, email, or any other means to find out where he was or to see if he was alright.

Imagine all of the thoughts that were going through my head… Where was he? Had there been some fighting where he was stationed? Was he injured, or even worse—heaven forbid—dead? I was beginning to get frantic and didn’t know where to turn.

I contacted his local National Guard Unit; but because he was an adult in the service, they could not give me any information. I then contacted a drill Sergeant at Fort Benning who had become a friend of the family, hoping he could locate some information for us. Unfortunately, he too was not permitted to release any information about my son. At this point, I was feeling desperate and didn’t know where to turn next.

I cannot recall what made me think of the Red Cross… I had never had reason to use their services before nor had anyone mentioned this possibility to me. But with wellbeing of my son hanging in the air, I took a leap of faith. On the morning of April 23, I called the local chapter and explained the situation to them. The case worker was very caring and soothed the anxious mother in me. She explained that they had many channels that could be used in searching for my son. So with that, I left the case in her hands and waited for a return call.

Within six hours, I had received a call back from the caseworker. Through the military locator service, she was able to determine Shawn’s current location - a hospital in Germany. Due to the fact he was over 18, she couldn’t share any further information with me, but would forward a message to him to contact his family. Although I had few details, just knowing he was alive was enough for me! Relief overcame me and I finally allowed myself to cry for my son—and thankfully, these were tears of joy.

The next day I received a phone call from Shawn – a mere 24 hours after my initial contact with the Red Cross. He had been injured in a truck accident in Bosnia on April 12 and had been sent to a hospital in Germany for surgery and recuperation. He had been unable to contact me because of his condition early on. He had been through surgery and was just beginning rehab. He would be in Germany for another 2 months before returning to the United States. While I couldn’t wait to see him, it was enough to know he would be alright!

Two days later, I received a call from the Red Cross caseworker inquiring if I had heard from my son and making sure everything was alright. With her persistence and dedication to her work at the Red Cross, that caseworker had changed our lives and we were truly grateful for her service. I had never expected to need the help of the American Red Cross. I didn’t even know the Red Cross was involved with the military. It was not until I needed to locate my son Shawn that I realized the role that Red Cross plays. I want to share how much my family appreciated the Red Cross caseworkers and how very thankful I am that Red Cross was there for Shawn and I in our time of need. You are the heroes of this story!”

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or join our blog at

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