Prospect of war elevates local Red Cross’ activities

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Local family members seem to want their active-duty military personnel home more now that war with Iraq is looming, a American Red Cross official said.

Rolanda Grayer of the Red Cross’ Vicksburg office coordinates family members’ communications to military personnel following important events such as deaths, serious illnesses or births. On Tuesday she said she had seen a rise in the past week in use of the organization’s service by local family members.

“In the past week, I’ve had six death notifications,” Grayer said, adding that normally it might take a month for her to see the same number.

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“A lot are calling in when aunts and uncles die,” she said. “They know (military personnel) are going off, so they want to see them.”

In normal peacetime without the anticipation of a war, family members will more often want their servicemen simply notified of such deaths, she said. “Now they’re saying, I want to put in a request for my son to come home.'”

U.S. troops are assembling in the Middle East, and war is being threatened against Iraq.

The communications service is available for family members of the United States’ approximately 1.4 million active-duty military personnel and 1.5 million National Guard and Reserve members.

The military has called in the past two weeks or said it plans to call to active duty at least 135 local National Guard or Reserve members.

To report such messages, family members may call the Red Cross at 636-1286. They are advised to have ready the service member’s full name, rank, branch of service and Social Security number. The service is available 24 hours a day.

Local Red Cross staff’s verification of the information to be relayed helps the soldier’s commanding officer in making a decision regarding emergency leave.

“It’s up to the company commander whether or not he’s going to let that person come home for a funeral or whatever,” Grayer said. She added that now, barring the death of an immediate family member, “it’s going to be hard for a soldier to come home.”

Some messages Grayer receives from family members simply ask for assurance that their family members are OK.

The Red Cross also offers emergency loans to families of military personnel, Grayer said.

She said she has been visiting with local National Guard and Reserve members, including those of the 114th Military Police unit and the 168th Engineer Group, before they are deployed. In such briefings she explains what the Red Cross’ services are and how they work and shows a videotape that includes pictures of Red Cross staff in action on military deployments.

The local Red Cross chapter serves Warren, Sharkey, Issaquena and Claiborne counties.