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Scene, Sunday, August 19, 2007

I recently had to make an emergency trip back to the States when my father had heart surgery. With one day’s notice, a commercial flight at the last minute would have cost thousands of dollars.

My husband and I began going through the necessary paperwork for me to take a hop, when someone suggested we contact the Red Cross.

We did, and the Red Cross booked me on a flight that night leaving the next morning for about a quarter of the price we had been quoted. I was relieved not to have to depend on space-A travel at such a crucial time.

Before this happened, I did not know this service was available. I wanted to share this with others who might need to know.

— Sheila

Your experience is an example of what your spouse’s unit, the Red Cross and military aid societies can do for military families in an emergency.

What appeared to be a seamless action on the part of the Red Cross was actually a team effort, explained Anita McPherson, senior station manager of the American Red Cross at Ramstein Air Base.

The primary role of the Red Cross in a military family emergency is verification, she said. The Red Cross receives the initial report of illness, surgery or death, contacts the hospital and the attending physician directly to get verification of the severity of the situation. That verification is provided to the military member’s commander, who can grant emergency leave for the member or travel authorization for the spouse.

That could translate into command sponsorship for Space-A military travel. In your case, it translated into assistance with a commercial flight. McPherson explained that funds for this service are provided by military aid societies: Army Emergency Relief, Air Force Aid Society, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance.

Because you called after hours, the Red Cross would have been the liaison with your relief organization. “The after-hours team also represents the aid societies,” McPherson said. “We’re authorized to handle emergencies on behalf of the aid society up to a certain amount.”

During business hours, you would have been referred directly to the aid society for your branch of the service, which would have given you the same assistance.

As for receiving lower rates on commercial flights, that depends on the airline, McPherson said. “Domestic airlines recognize the Red Cross message and may give you priority,” she said. If there is space available, they may make a ticket available at a discounted rate, which is probably what happened in your situation, Sheila.

Whether discounted or full price, the initial funds for a commercial ticket come from the aid societies, McPherson emphasized. In some cases, the price is a grant and sometimes a loan.

“When the emergency occurs, we do what needs to be done,” McPherson said. “When the crisis is resolved, the servicemember works with the aid society” to arrange repayment if required.

The Red Cross is a good number to call in emergencies involving far-away family members, whether back in the States or during a deployment. Servicemembers, spouses, even extended family members can initiate an emergency message. When verified by the Red Cross, this will start the ball rolling.

Terri Barnes is a military spouse and mother of three living in Germany. Send comments or questions to her at spousecalls@stripes.com and join the Spouse Calls Blog at http://blogs.stripes.com/blogs/spousecalls.

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