by Amy Yen, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross North Texas Region
Most people would at least hesitate at the idea of picking up their lives and spending an entire year abroad in Kuwait. Paula LeBov couldn’t believe her luck.
As an Army combat medic for 24 years, Paula deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently retired and working as a Service to the Armed Forces Specialist for the American Red Cross in Fort Worth, she jumped at the chance of a year-long deployment to Kuwait as a Resiliency Program Manager at Camp Arifjan.
“I loved deploying during my time in the military. I knew what it’s like to live in an uncomfortable situation without the luxuries of life. That actually is part of what appealed to me about the position. I know sounds funny,” Paula explained. “I really enjoy being uncomfortable sometimes. It’s a great way to grow and become a stronger person. Since I had retired, I never thought I’d have this opportunity to deploy again. I feel so fortunate that this fell into my lap the way it did.”
The position was perfect for Paula because of her time as a brigade master resiliency trainer in the military. The Army developed a resiliency program in an effort to teach soldiers how to cope with deployment and hopefully reduce the rate of PTSD.
“They were hoping instead of post-traumatic stress, they would see post-deployment growth,” Paula said.
For her deployment, Paula was a resiliency program manager for the US Army Central Command. She led or oversaw resiliency classes for soldiers at the base, which were required every quarter, and also taught a full 2-week master resiliency trainer course, so that the program could train new resiliency trainers. In addition, she worked with Behavioral Health, building holistic resiliency skills that soldiers could use, such as yoga & meditation classes.
“I just really enjoyed being in a military environment again. Just being able to be with soldiers again. It was such fulfilling work. Just to help make soldiers more resilient and cope with stress. There were some soldiers I worked with that were on the verge of suicide, or making a bad professional career mistake. To be able to step in and help them get their head back on straight and get their lives in order, that’s what the Red Cross does. On these deployments, we really help alleviate emotional suffering.”
Paula was part of a four-person Red Cross office at Camp Arifan. Besides the resiliency program, the primary mission of the Red Cross at that office is emergency communication, which facilitates getting a message about an emergency back home, such as a death, illness or birth, to a deployed service member. The service is key to allowing service members to return home during these emergencies.
“A lot of commanders won’t let soldiers go home without the Red Cross message,” Paula explains. “When they see the Red Cross is giving the message, they know it’s verified. The Red Cross will check with the funeral home or the hospital, so they know it’s a real emergency. It’s so impactful to be able to allow soldiers to return home.”
Despite its tiny staff, the Red Cross office at Camp Arifan is manned 24/7. It means a tough deployment for the Red Cross staffers in the office, who can be Red Cross employees or volunteers from anywhere in the world. During Paula’s time at the base, her fellow Red Crossers ranged from a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer from the Northeast to a regional director from the Dakotas to a manager from Japan.
“I don’t think they ever got a day off, they just kept rotating 8 hour shifts,” marveled Paula. “That’s why they’re only deployed for six months, because it’s a very draining assignment. They deal with some heavy stuff—deaths and illnesses. But it’s also so important to help soldiers get the messages they need to go home.”
Now back from a year abroad, Paula says the experience has helped her become a better caseworker by giving her more insight into the emergency communication process and how to better follow up with what a family needs. She also wants to continue to spread the word about the services the Red Cross provides to members of the armed forces, veterans and their families.
“I was military for 24 years and all I thought the Red Cross did for the Armed Forces was emergency communication,” she admits. “I didn’t know they had resiliency workshops, I didn’t know they were in VA hospitals, organize events, any of that. I was shocked at the scope of the mission.
“I want people to know that the Red Cross is there for the soldiers from basic training until their death. We are there to support them through their training, during their service, when they retire—we have services to support veterans, and we have services to support their families. I would want to the service members to know, we are there for you—the soldier, the airman, the seaman, the marine.”
To learn more about the Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces, visit RedCross.org.