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Red Cross honors local military families

July 25, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN -- Over the past year, Kasi Shifflett would have given anything to have heard her husband grumble about walking their two dogs.

But he was in Iraq serving with the Marine Corps.

So the dogs were her responsibility, along with paying the bills, making sure the car ran smoothly and dealing with household chores.

It was even tougher living in North Carolina, she said, miles away from family in Hagerstown.

Though her 21-year-old husband, Adam, currently is home on leave, she's bracing herself for next month, when he will return to Iraq for a second tour of duty.

But she's learning to cope.

"I'm a military wife," she said.

The American Red Cross estimates some 3.9 million families have been affected in some way by a loved one's deployment.

Whether it's a spouse, a child, a parent or sibling, lives are altered.

In an effort to show its support for local military families, the American Red Cross of Washington County hosted a dinner and evening of entertainment Saturday at its headquarters on Conrad Court.

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About 80 people, including the Shiffletts and other active servicemen and veterans, attended the event.

The evening was made possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, said Julie Barr-Strasburg, executive director of the local Red Cross chapter.

The grant will help the Red Cross provide added support and services to military families, she said.

Al Martin, chairman of the board of directors, said one of the goals of the American Red Cross is to help people in times of need, and that includes members of the military.

Martin said the local chapter provides transportation to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., and also offers armed forces emergency services, including counseling and referral assistance.

Offering a special evening to salute the military seemed natural, he said.

"We wanted to bring military families together, particularly now with people serving overseas," Martin said. "We thought this would be a good way for local families to get to know each other and support each other."

But before they could send out invitations, they had to find local military families.

"We went through six months of military news in The Herald-Mail's archives and then looked up people's addresses," Barr-Strasburg said. "We also contacted recruiters, churches and veterans groups."

Though it involved a lot of work, it was worth it, she said.

"This is the first time we've held this event and I'm very pleased with the turnout," she said. "We hope to do it again next year."

In addition to dinner, the evening included a magic show, music by the Rohersville Band, prizes and giveaways.

"We really wanted this to be a family event," Martin said.

Also in attendance was Jackie Barrett of Hagerstown, whose brother, Harold Sparrow, 32, is serving his second tour of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Air Force.

"I received an e-mail from my girlfriend, who told me about this event," she said. "I decided to come out tonight."

"We need stuff like this," she added. "My brother would be proud that I'm here and proud that the local Red Cross is saluting military families."

Prior to dinner, Adam Shifflett led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

"I'm honored," Shifflett said, sitting at a table with his wife and parents, Denny and Karen Shifflett of Hagerstown.

"And we're very proud of him," his father said. "We're also proud to be part of this event."

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