Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Branscum

Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Branscum (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

NAVAL AIR FACILITY MISAWA, Japan — The $500 check could not have come at a better time.

Hurricane Katrina had wiped out their home in Biloxi, Miss. Most of their belongings were lost or ruined by floodwaters. Category 5 winds had slammed their vehicle against their house like a Matchbox car.

It was late August 2005, shortly after Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Branscum and his wife, Kayo, had moved to Keesler Air Force Base, where Branscum was attending meteorology school for the Navy.

After weathering Katrina at an on-base shelter, the couple was separated for a few days after Kayo and other Navy spouses were transported to Naval Air Station Pensacola in northwest Florida.

It was there that the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society sprung into action, providing the Branscums and countless others with $500 grants.

“We ended up using the cash for gas money [and lodging] to get safely back to Texas,” where Branscum’s parents lived, Branscum said. The Branscums rode with an old friend, a sailor who was able to get his car fixed with aid from the relief society, Branscum said.

“You have your savings … but you don’t know how much money you’re going to need” to rebuild, he said. “They made a big impact on me. I’ve always wanted to give back.”

Branscum finally got his chance. A meteorologist and oceanographer with Command Task Force 72 at Misawa, he’s this year’s base coordinator for the relief society’s annual active-duty fund drive.

The society’s worldwide fund drive lasts through March 31.

Anyone can donate. Donations help pay for all the society’s services, except for education programs, which are funded by interest on investments, said NMCRS Yokosuka branch director Andrea Bowen.

“Those donated dollars we get are going right back to sailors” and Marines, Bowen said.

The relief society provides interest-free loans or grants to help with an array of emergency needs, from childcare expenses and vehicle repairs to funeral expenses and emergency travel.

Active-duty and retired sailors and Marines and their families are among those eligible for services.

“We’re here when they have no other place to turn to,” Bowen said.

In 2007, NMCRS at Commander, Naval Forces Japan bases raised about $420,000 and provided some $480,000 in assistance, according to Bowen.

“Our goal this year is $500,000,” she said, noting money raised goes into a pot for the society worldwide.

For his part, Branscum is focused on education, sharing his and other success stories involving NMCRS, and dispelling any rumors or myths.

“I’ve heard [stories] ‘I tried to get this help and they denied me,’” he said.

“The society gives you money but it’s got to be a need, not a want,” he stressed. “I can’t think of a better program, personally, being a sailor.”

About the relief society

The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society is a 104-year-old organization designed to provide financial, educational and other support to active-duty and retired sailors, Marines and their families.

Sponsored by the Department of the Navy, the society is a private, nonprofit entity whose programs and services are totally funded by charitable contributions. The society has fewer than 250 paid employees and more than 3,400 volunteers.

Highlights from 2007 include $1.5 million in combat casualty assistance to 1,035 injured Marines and sailors and their families. Most of this help was in the form of outright grants.

The society also expanded its Quick Assist Loan program, allowing active-duty members with a bona fide financial need to receive a check in 15 minutes or less

Source: Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society

How you can helpDonations to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society may be in the form of cash, check or allotment (automatic paycheck deduction). Sailors and Marines should contact their command representative during this year’s active-duty fund drive to make a donation. Commands have set the goal of contacting everyone by March 16. The fund drive ends March 31.

For more information about NMCRS services, call them at their various locations in the Pacific, including:

NMCRS Guam: DSN 339-6472

NMCRS Atsugi: DSN 264-3691

NMCRS Camp Fuji: DSN 224-8368 (emergency services only)

NMCRS Camp Hansen: DSN 623-5043

NMCRS Chinhae: DSN 762-5388

NMCRS Iwakuni: DSN 253-5311

NMCRS Misawa: DSN 226-3721

NMCRS Okinawa: DSN 645-7808

NMCRS Sasebo: DSN 252-3366

NMCRS Yokosuka: DSN 243-7905

— From staff reports

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now