FORT BLISS - When you think of the American Red Cross, images of workers tirelessly helping disaster victims or helping out with blood drives jump instantly to mind.
But the organization has an older mission that it's been training for at Fort Bliss.
Seven Red Cross staffers and reservists from across the country and even abroad came to Fort Bliss last week to train at the new Continental United States Replacement Center. They left Friday to deploy to Afghanistan and Kuwait in support of U.S. troops.
They included two grandmothers and a single mother and they trained alongside individual replacement soldiers who will also be deploying.
Alphonsa Oliver, a native of Portsmouth, Va., is the senior station manager for the American Red Cross in Stuttgart, Germany. He will lead a team of four, including himself, who will deploy to Afghanistan.
"The Red Cross started on the battlefield with Clara Barton doing her thing during the Civil War, helping soldiers on both sides, North and South," Oliver said. "This is an extension of that. The Red Cross has continued the tradition of helping service members in times of time."
The Red Cross serves as a key communication link between families and their loved ones who are serving overseas. If an immediate family member dies or gets sick, the family can contact the Red Cross. The information is verified and is then sent to the service member and his command team, said Michael Patton, senior station manager for the Red Cross at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The command team can then make an informed decision about granting the service member leave.
Patton, who is retired Army, will lead a team of three to Kuwait. ?Kenneth Romero, station manager for the Fort Bliss Red Cross, has deployed five times previously, but won't be going this time.
Romero said the Red Cross also plays a valuable role by creating a "home away from home" for service members, plans morale-building events like barbecues and does anti-suicide intervention.
Patton, who will be deploying with the Red Cross for the fourth time, said the visiting Red Cross teams received a wide range of training that included how to put on an anti-ballistics vest and escape from an overturned vehicle.
"Everything you can think of, they ran us through it," he said.
Oliver, the team leader for Afghanistan, will be on his seven deployment, which will last about five months.
The training they got at Fort Bliss teaches you to better understand the environment, culture and challenges you will be going into and helps you better serve the military, he said.
Jeannette Salcedo, the assistant station manager for the American Red Cross at Fort Bragg, N.C., will be going to Afghanistan. She is the grandmother of two and is deploying for the first time.
"I'm not afraid," she said. "We've had excellent training at Fort Bliss. We need to be alert and aware of our surroundings. You can't get complacent. It's our original mission - service to the Armed Forces."
Her father was killed during the Vietnam War, and this is her way of giving back, she said.
Cheryl Searcy is also a grandmother who will be going to Afghanistan. She lives in Alexandria, Va., and works at the Red Cross national headquarters. She travels and does operational support work for chapters across 22 states.
She has three grown children and two grandchildren, but decided to deploy.
"It's an amazing opportunity and will be a life-changing event for me," she said.
Her father, who will turn 90 next month, was a World War II veteran and served in the Navy Reserve for 20 years after the war.
That's where she gained her respect for the military, she said.
Amanda Macias of Orlando, Fla, will also be going to Afghanistan. She's excited but a little bit nervous about her first deployment.
The training they went through was hectic, but very educational, she said.
"We got to do everything [servicemembers] do except the weapons training," she said.
Mia Bostic, from Columbia, S.C., will go to Kuwait with Patton and is excited about the opportunity, but will have to leave her 14-month-old son behind.
Bostic had always wanted to go into the military but was diagnosed with asthma.
"This is my way around that," she said.