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'It's Time'

Red Cross volunteer takes assignment in South Korea.

After 24 years of working for several lawyers in Alexandria, a 50-year-old grandmother is on her way to South Korea and then, possibly, to Iraq or Afghanistan. Her job will be to provide emergency services to the armed forces.

Pat D'Angelo has been a volunteer with the Alexandria Chapter of the American Red Cross since July 2002. Following eight weeks of on-the-job training at the Yong San military installation outside Seoul, Korea, she will be an American Red Cross, armed forces emergency service tier three reservist, assistant station manager.

"Our job is to receive, verify and deliver emergency messages to armed forces personnel worldwide. We take the initial message from the family, verify its authenticity, find out where the military person is stationed and get it to them," D'Angelo said. "The Red Cross is mandated by Congress to provide this service to the military. The armed forces have the responsibility of actually delivering the message once it has been verified.

"Our main job is to verify the emergency so that the military person can get hardship leave. Most commands will not consider leave unless the emergency situation is verified by the Red Cross," D'Angelo said.

TWO YEARS AGO, D'Angelo was looking for a volunteer opportunity while she was working three days a week in an Alexandria law office. "I was looking for something else to do," she said. "While I was volunteering for the local Red Cross chapter, I became aware of this and how it important it was. I had no clue there was such a job."

Her new assignment is a paid position with the American Red Cross. The term "Reservist" in the title is the same as that used by the military, according to D'Angelo. "We live with the troops on a military base at each site and we wear a uniform," D'Angelo said.

She is scheduled to depart for Korea on Sept. 14 and to return to her home in southern Prince George's County, Md., on Nov. 18. Anytime after Jan. 1, 2005 she could be deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq for a six-month tour of duty.

"There's usually a team in each station of no less than two people depending on the number of troops we are covering. Each station has to be staffed 24/7 every day of the year," she said.

Although the training could be done at American Red Cross Headquarters in Washington, DC, D'Angelo speculated that the reason for the Korea location was to "expose me to the actual situation and what's it's like to be in a foreign land. This will be my first time out of this country," she said.

There are American Red Cross Service Centers for bases in the United States located in Washington and the midwest, according to D'Angelo. "I wanted the Tier Three status because that's world wide," she said.

For the past 18 months she has been an administrative assistant to Jay Test, an Alexandria lawyer with offices on Prince Street. "He has been very supportive of my desire to do this and has said I have a job when I get back from training.

"What will happen if I get deployed for six months is something we haven't discussed," D'Angelo said. "And, even if I do, once that deployment is over, there's no guarantee I'll have a job with the Red Cross. Reservist is just that, reservist. You go when needed."

But, as she admitted, "I really bugged [the Red Cross] for this job. I thought it was something very important and I have a son in the Navy."

D'Angelo praised the local chapter for supporting her. "They made sure I had the basic training needed before I could even be considered for the job," she said.

ALEXANDRIA CHAPTER Red Cross officials were very positive of that drive as well as D'Angelo's capabilities. "We're very proud that she's taken this on. She's very brave to do it," said Julia Wright, executive director, Alexandria Chapter, American Red Cross.

Those sentiments were buttressed by Jeanne Mankin, the chapter's director of Services Delivery. "I know Pat is really determined and dedicated to do this. She will do an outstanding job for the military people," Mankin said.

Shelia Dumlao, staffing associate at American Red Cross Headquarters, said, "She's my poster child. She's a tremendous person who has gone that extra mile. We're sending her to Korea because she has no overseas experience."

When asked how her husband of 29 years, Frank, who works for Lockheed Martin, was reacting, D'Angelo said, "He's been very supportive of my need to do this." They have three grown children and four grandchildren.

THEIR YOUNGEST SON, Giovanni, 24, is in the U.S. Navy stationed in Italy. Ironically, a Navy ship at sea is one area where personnel such as D'Angelo are not stationed. Any emergency information for individual crew members come through the radio operator to the captain, according to D'Angelo.

Another son, Benito, 26, lives in Waldorf. Their daughter Francesca, 28, is also located in southern Prince George's County. All the grandchildren are in the local area.

During her volunteer services with the Alexandria Chapter, D'Angelo assisted in opening and running emergency shelters. As an assistant station manager for emergency services, she will cover the gamut from contacting doctors and hospitals to verifying critical situations to personally delivering that information to personnel in a combat zone, according to D'Angelo.

"There's a time limit on when messages are to be answered. It varies from region to region and situation to situation," she said. "But they don't want to hear that you have not contacted a doctor or hospital for a couple of days. Even if you can't get immediate verification they want to know that too," she said.

"I understand that requests for aid in Iraq are running in the thousands per day at the present time," she said. "That's why this opportunity is so important to me. My children are all grown and it's time to do something important."