By Gordon Williams
It’s not unusual for Red Cross workers and volunteers to leave home and fly to some distant location—to fires in California or a hurricane in the Carolinas. When Sarah Jacob flies to a distant location early in January, she will be traveling to a place few Red Cross workers have ever gone—the East African country of Djibouti.
Sarah is currently a Regional Program Specialist with the Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces (SAF) at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM), near Tacoma. Starting in January she will be on a six-month deployment to Djibouti—one of the nine Red Cross SAF staffers on a deployment site outside the U.S. Other SAF workers are based in Kuwait, Iraq, Poland and Romania. Sarah will be the only SAF representative in Djibouti—the only one in all of Africa for that matter.
Serving the military has been a core Red Cross function since its founding in 1881 by Clara Barton—a battlefield nurse during the Civil War. These days, through its Hero Care program, SAF provides assistance in times of emergency to on-duty military personnel and their families. It also offers resiliency training to help service members—active, retired and veteran’s–cope with the unique stresses of military service. “Resiliency training,” Sarah says, “helps service members and their families find the tools to help them with the challenges of military life.”
For the past year-and-a-half, Sarah has been managing these SAF programs and more as one of two Regional Program Specialists at JBLM. The big news there was SAF’s recent move into big new facilities at the post— a return to facilities the Red Cross occupied from 1944 until the early 90s. The regional SAF program recently also got a new director—retired Army colonel Scott Armstrong. He oversees SAF operations through the whole Northwest Region, which is filled with military facilities.
In Djibouti, Sarah will be based at Camp Lemonnier—a naval base that is home to the U.S. Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa. It is the only permanent U.S. military facility in Africa.
Her main job will be managing those two key SAF programs in Djibouti—Hero Care and resiliency training. In that sense, what she does day-by-day in Djibouti won’t be that much different than what she has been doing at JBLM. “But I will be doing a third thing in Djibouti that will be unique,” she says. That new function is CPR and first aid training for service members.
Sarah is a certified instructor in both CPR and first aid. She will train the trainers and the trainers will then instruct their own units.
It’s not by chance that Sarah’s role at the Red Cross involves serving the military. She is a self-proclaimed “military brat,” meaning she is the child of someone in the armed forces.
She got a degree in global studies at Loyola University in Baltimore and added a graduate degree at San Diego State University in California. Her first position out of school was with the AmeriCorp-VISTA program. That is the government program whose volunteers deal with such issues as poverty, homelessness and disaster recovery. VISTA sent Sarah to Pleasantville NJ. “I was responsible for Hurricane Sandy recovery and relief in the Southeast corner of New Jersey,” she says.
She came to the Red Cross in 2016—not in any of the organization’s many U.S. facilities, but as part of the SAF deployment team at Camp Arifjan, an Army base in Kuwait. “I had heard about the SAF mission,” she says. “I was really drawn to being able to help service members and their families this way.”
She spent five months in Kuwait and then moved to JBLM, the largest military base in the whole Northwest Region of the Red Cross. The facility she and fellow regional program specialist Adrienne Bolton inherited was cramped and up several flights of stairs. The Red Cross moved into its new facility in late September.
Even working out of the old facility, SAF could offer programs to the Northwest Region beyond Hero Care and resiliency. Sarah ran a youth program that offers youngsters 14 to 17 an opportunity to volunteer over the summer at a military treatment facility. “It gives the volunteers an opportunity to explore the medical field and gives them some professional development experience,” she says.
Actually, Sarah was away from JBLM for most of the autumn—serving as interim regional program director for SAF in Louisiana. She is back in Washington now and will fly from here to Djibouti early in 2019. She isn’t sure what sort of accommodations she will have in Djibouti but assumes it will be a trailer or some sort of containerized housing. Given the climate she will find in Djibouti (day-time highs can top 100 degrees) she does hope it is air conditioned.
Having found deployment to Kuwait a wonderful experience, Sarah says she is eagerly looking forward to her deployment to Djibouti. She knows it will be challenging—being the only SAF representative in all of Africa. It is, she says, the sort of challenge she joined the Red Cross to take on. As she explains it, “The Red Cross and Service to Armed Forces allow me to give back to the community that means the most to me, our military community.”