By Rebecca Boehm
Edited by Rachel Ramey
Sandy Mama, Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Regional Director, shared just a few of the insights and perspectives she’s gained during her past nine years with the organization. For her, some of the most impactful services the Red Cross offers are ones that many aren’t familiar with.
What made you want to start serving members of the armed forces?
My father is a retired U.S. Air Force service member, so offering a helping hand to others like him is very close to my heart. This is my way of being able to give back to these individuals and their families.
What moment in your career has been the most impactful?
There have been so many wonderful memories, but one that sticks out is my time assisting in Afghanistan, getting to see the same things as service members over there.
Back in 2011, I went to Afghanistan as a mobile staff member with the SAF department and, like other Red Crossers who sign up for the position, I was excited and grateful for the opportunity to give back. As mobile staffers, we had to move to different locations every 3-5 years—part of these duties included deployment to combat zones where we were needed the most. Even though we were sent to combat zones (military training, Kevlar jacket and helmet included) we were removed from the direct line of fire. Despite this separation, you still went through the same mixed emotions as the service members around you—a little bit of fear, because you didn’t know what might happen to you and, at the same time, the need to focus on your mission. It felt very surreal and took a while to get used to it.
Now, when I hear stories from service members about their deployments, I can relate to them. It helps me connect with the military on a more personal level because, since I’ve been there, I know what they’re going though.
What are some ways the Red Cross helps service members?
Our main mission is emergency communications to military members and their families 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In addition, we also provide access to CPR classes, resiliency training and volunteer opportunities to help families find a sense of community. Being a family member of someone in the military is hard, but having access to these valuable Red Cross services can make it a little easier.
How does this make a difference for active members, their families and vets?
We’re offering them peace of mind. When someone joins the military they’re moved around the world and when emergencies happen, the Red Cross is there to help. We vet the request, which can range from an illness in the family or a death, to a financial emergency, home fire or even a large disaster. Once we’ve provided this information, it helps the supervisor or commander make the decision on what to do next and when to send someone home to their family.
What do find to be your most important contribution in this role?
Working with our volunteers. They are the heart of the organization.
What is the most challenging part of your mission?
It’s difficult to work with families that are going through an emergency situation filled with stress and trauma, but at the same time I know we are helping them. Despite the challenges, it’s always moving to see how fulfilled and thankful they are for our support.