“If you had told me when I graduated that I’d be working in Afghanistan in two years, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Neither snow nor dark of night nor indirect fire kept Gabrielle Skovira ’10 (history) and her fellow Red Cross staffers from making their appointed rounds in Afghanistan. Their mission: to deliver emergency communications to service members and civilians serving overseas.

The history major, who interned with the Union County chapter of the American Red Cross as a student, returned to the States in May after staffing a Red Cross office and canteen at Bagram Air Field. “Our team of four people delivered 4,400-plus messages over our five months. We worked in shifts seven days a week and the office is manned 24-7,” she says.

In emergencies, families contact the Red Cross, which passes their messages on to the overseas office. “Because units are constantly moving in and out of theater or to different locations within Afghanistan, it was sometimes a challenge to locate message recipients,” Skovira says.

The toughest messages, she says, were those involving suicide prevention. “If our U.S. office got an emergency call from a family member or friend who had contact with someone deployed who threatened to harm themselves or others, they would send us a message to contact the command immediately to secure the person.”

Despite spending Christmas Day in body armor and occasionally enduring indirect fire on base, Skovira worked hard to lift spirits. She helped put together care packages for remote bases, hosted March Madness and Super Bowl viewing parties (“Despite the time difference and a lot of snow, we had a full house at 4 a.m. for the Super Bowl.”) and organized a 5K, which Bucknell’s cross country and track teams supported by sending snacks and T-shirts.

“It was an honor to serve those who volunteered to serve the U.S. in the military. We met some amazing people.” In turn, the gratitude of service members kept her motivated. “Having someone who was traveling home on emergency leave stop by the office to thank us for getting their message through quickly... knowing that we made things a little easier for people was awesome.”

Now back at the American Red Cross National Headquarters, Skovira advises graduates to take advantage of opportunities. “If you had told me when I graduated that I’d be working in Afghanistan in two years, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Posted July 2013