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Deploying to Iraq with the Red Cross

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 10, 2009 - Andrew Chappelle is the kind of guy who goes skydiving on his birthday and does research in the West Bank. The 25-year-old St. Louis University graduate is preparing for his next adventure -– a four-and-a-half-month stint working in Baghdad.

Chappelle, who is leaving today for Iraq, will be helping to deliver emergency messages -– the birth of a child, the death of a family member -– from people in the United States to service members abroad. He’ll be working for the American Red Cross, an organization best known for its disaster services and blood drives, but which also accompanies American military forces around the world.

Chappelle is an assistant station manager reservist in Service to the Armed Forces, a branch of the organization that helps with emergency communications. He will be living at Camp Liberty, working out of a Red Cross branch office and dealing largely with commanding military officers who pass the messages to troops. Some military members are well-versed in instant messaging, Chappelle said, but others still rely on other forms of communication.

“Whatever the message is, it can’t wait weeks,” Chappelle said. “It’s humbling to be a part of this operation, and I’m in awe of the commitment that our servicemen and women make on a daily basis.”

Chappelle, who grew up in Kansas City, spent much of the past three years since his graduation traveling around the world. His undergraduate degree is in political science, and he is enrolled in an online Webster University international relations program that allows him to study from anywhere.

The majority of his grad school classes have been on the Middle East, and Chappelle said he’s particularly interested in learning about that part of the world -– which is one reason the Red Cross job appealed to him. His father served in the United States Air Force, and Chappelle said he’s long wanted to work for an international humanitarian organization. 

There’s another aspect that appeals to him, too. “I’ve been told our work day is sometimes cut short when we’re asked to referee a sports game or play volleyball with the troops,” Chappelle said. “Part of our job is being paid to smile, to be there for morale.”