By Gordon Williams
Sometime early in 2020, Eric Reevesman of Everett, Washington will board a plane and fly to a distant part of the world. Getting on that plane will move Eric one step closer to realizing the dream of military service that has nourished him since he was a child.
Eric is a regional program specialist for the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program in the Red Cross Northwest Region. The region covers Washington state and northern Idaho — territory that is dotted with military bases. Everett, where Eric is based, is the headquarters of the Snohomish County Red Cross chapter, one of the seven chapters that make up the Northwest region.
Precise destination for Eric’s journey had not been set when we talked to him in early December. It will be to one of the five overseas locations where SAF has a presence: Iraq, Kuwait, Djibouti in East Africa, Poland and Romania. No matter where he ends up, his mission overseas will be essentially the same as it is here: providing all manner of assistance to U.S. service members stationed there, and, when necessary, to their families.
Eric describes his pending deployment as “a wonderful opportunity as a civilian to support our troops overseas.” And that brings us back to that childhood dream of his — service with the military. “I knew from the time I was in seventh grade that I wanted to join the military,” he says. Specifically, he wanted to be a United States Marine.
In furtherance of that, he spent three-and-a-half years in a platoon leaders training program at California State University at Sacramento that was to lead to Officer’s Candidate School. He was also president of the Student Veterans Organization, and was active in other organizations with ties to the military. “I wanted to do everything I could to support the men and women in uniform,” he says.
And then, in his last year of college, doctors discovered a medical condition. “I was told I was medically disqualified for military service,” he says. With his dream of life in the military seemingly out of reach, Eric graduated college and went to work for a trucking company. And then, two years ago, he heard the Red Cross was hiring for the SAF program. Eric applied and got the job. “It was the closest thing I could get to serving in the military without being able to don a uniform,” he says.
Service to the Armed Forces is a core Red Cross function — one that dates back to its founding in 1881 by Clara Barton, a Civil War battlefield nurse. Not only did Barton help care for the wounded, but she performed other services such as writing letters home for soldiers.
The most visible part of Eric’s job is managing the region’s Hero Care Network. That is the SAF function that aids service members, veterans and their families when there is an emergency. Hero Care might be called upon to unite parents and active duty children after a death in the family. Hero Care assists an average 300 military families each day.
The Northwest Region is home to many military facilities — the Lewis-McChord joint Army-Air Force base near Tacoma, naval bases in Everett and Bremerton, an Air Force base near Spokane and a Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island. Besides aiding military families during a crisis, SAF offers resiliency training to help service members and their families cope with the unique stresses of life in the military.
Beyond that, Eric manages three international service programs for the region. There is the Restoring Family Links Network, which helps unite families who have been separated by disaster or war; the International Humanitarian Law program, which deals with the laws that govern warfare; and the Youth Action Campaign which teaches humanitarian law to school kids.
Demand for SAF services is heavy. Eric says that in the most recent fiscal year, programs that he manages handled more than 10,000 emergency cases, assisting nearly 2,600 military members, veterans and their families. Eric and his team of volunteers also provided resiliency training to more than 350 family members and briefed 20,000 service members about SAF.
Eric’s workload won’t be that much different during the six months he will spend at his overseas posting. He will mostly provide the same SAF services he provides in the U.S. The difference is the service members he aids will be far from home and family, and in locales where support services seldom match those back home. Even if he isn’t sure exactly where in the world he is going, Eric can’t wait to take up his new post and do what he finds most rewarding: “Assisting service members in their time of greatest need.”