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Choosing the Path Less Traveled


There is no job Wade Walrond would rather have than the one he has now—providing Red Cross services at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It’s exactly where he wants to be at this time in his life.

Wade always planned to make a difference. He was raised that way.

His mother, a DOD wife and American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces volunteer, suggested he join the Red Cross. “Red Crossers do good things,” she told him.

When he graduated from college Wade had two job offers, one as a military station manager with Red Cross Service to Armed Forces, the other a promising position in sales. He took the Red Cross job.

“My mother tells me she knew I would like working for the Red Cross,” Wade smiles.

A Story of Love and Commitment to Service

The next three years of Wade’s life would be the perfect subject for a light, romantic comedy: boy meets girl; boy marries girl; boy and girl cannot live together for the first three years of their marriage because each is assisting the military in a different overseas location.

When Wade began his Red Cross career in 1999, he was assigned to the Service to Armed Forces call center in Northern Virginia. The call center, hub for incoming and outgoing emergency communications and other military-related casework, was the first stop for new Red Cross assistant station managers. Here Wade met his future wife, Elizabeth, also a new recruit. It was love at first sight.

At the call center Wade worked the day shift, Elizabeth worked the night shift, making it difficult for the two to spend as much time together as they would have liked. The couple’s focus on service and their personal commitment to the Red Cross mission was a harbinger of things to come.

Both were soon ready for their first deployments. Elizabeth was sent to Bosnia where she provided communications and related services to U.S. military; Wade did the same in Kosovo. They were able to talk for 15 minutes, two times a week.

Buying an engagement ring was the first thing Wade did when he returned from Kosovo. Elizabeth said “yes.” Then she left for an assignment in Okinawa, Japan.

Up for a new assignment himself, Wade told their boss, Kay Walton, the two were engaged. “Who’s going to quit?” Walton asked. Wade replied that both he and Elizabeth wanted to continue their Red Cross service, and asked if he could be assigned to a post close to his fiancée’s.

The request was granted. Wade and Elizabeth worked 42 miles apart, seeing each other when they could, and planning, often by long distance. Seven months after they arrived in Okinawa they flew to Pembroke, Wales, to get married in the same church in which Elizabeth’s mother was married.

On their next assignments, Wade was sent to London and Elizabeth about 83 miles north to Alconbury, a Royal Air Force station controlled by the United States Air Force in Cambridgeshire, England. The Walronds remained at their respective posts, working 24-7 to link military with their families during a crisis.

Elizabeth was deployed to Afghanistan; Wade drew the next Afghan assignment. The couple got to spend a few hours together in Afghanistan before Elizabeth returned to England.

After three years of marriage, Elizabeth resigned from the Red Cross and moved to London to live permanently, for the first time, with Wade.

Their first child, Ian, was born in London. When the baby was three months old, the family was transferred to Kaiserslautern, Germany, where Wade served as manager of the Red Cross station at Lundstuhl Regional Medical Center. Wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan were raging, and Lundstuhl, the largest military hospital outside the United States, was the nearest treatment center for wounded soldiers.

In the next few years, Wade worked on several deployments, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Wanting to return stateside, he transferred to Fort Drum, New York.

Then, in 2008, one of those unexpected phone calls came his way. Service to Armed Forces wondered if Wade was interested in the position of Red Cross senior station manager at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, the U.S. Army’s most important medical center.

The Privilege of Serving the Military

“Walter Reed is the hardest job I’ve had with the Red Cross,” Wade says. His average work week is 45 to 50 hours, sometimes more. Wade says he is always tired, but has good stories to tell when he gets home at night. “Elizabeth understands why and what I’m facing,” he says, “because she had the same job.”

The first two weeks at Walter Reed were especially taxing emotionally. Every night Wade would talk to his wife about the strength of the human spirit he witnessed again and again. He tells about the first time he saw a wounded soldier who had lost both legs, walking in the ward with new prosthetics and a full rucksack on his back.

“It’s amazing what modern technology can do,” Wade comments. “It is even more amazing how these men and women keep it together and push through.” And Wade knows what he is talking about—with stays as long as two years, he gets to know America’s wounded warriors very well.

If you need help, Wade is the kind of guy you hope will be there. One soldier recovering at Walter Reed had lost both legs at the hip, and for physical and emotional reasons, needed a specialized wheel chair (called an iBOT) that operates with sensors and gyroscopes to climb stairs, traverse curbs and lift the rider to eye-level height. The chair was out of production. So Wade went to his rolodex of people who stand ready to support Red Cross Service to Armed Forces, made a few phone calls and got the soldier his iBOT.

“I see needs like that all the time,” Wade says. Recently he went out and got a bike for a soldier who can not ride in the confines of a bus or subway because of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Wade found a financial donor, picked up a bike, gave it to the soldier and saw the young woman the next day, independently riding up the street to the store.

The Red Cross station gives away a lot of items that help boost morale. One of the most popular is a hand held game system, the Nintendo DS. Among the games the Red Cross gives away with the system is “Brain Age,” featuring activities designed to stimulate the brain. The Red Cross has given away hundreds of copies, Wade reports. He proudly goes on to say that Walter Reed is starting to study the value of “Brain Age” in treating Traumatic Brain Injury.

Reminiscences

Wade Walrond’s family is intertwined with the American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces line of business.

His mother, Anita McPherson, now a Red Cross Service to Armed Forces employee rather than a volunteer, has worked all over Germany and the United States. She is currently on her first Far East assignment, as the senior station manager at Japan’s Yokosuka Navy Base.

Wade’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Schirk, is also a Service to Armed Forces staff member. Ironically, Wade worked with Schirk, the woman who would become his mother-in-law, during his first deployment to Kosovo in 1999. Schirk just returned from Haiti as part of the Service to Armed Forces team managing volunteer translators on the U.S. hospital ship Comfort.

His sister-in-law, Angie Henderson, was the volunteer station chair of the Red Cross station on Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Wade, and both sides of his family, exemplify the Red Cross Fundamental Principles of humanity and voluntary service—bringing assistance to those in need and alleviating human suffering with no desire to profit from their acts.

Consider, for example, Wade’s work on his very first deployment, 11 years ago. In the middle of the night Wade received a message for a soldier whose mother was very ill. The soldier’s unit was not answering the duty phone. Wade knew what area they were in and set off on foot through mud and three feet of snow to deliver the message. He found the unit and woke up the commanding officer, who pulled in the soldier. The Private called home right away.

“This is part of my job; it’s what I’m here for; it made a difference,” Wade says. “If I hadn’t found that soldier, he would not have talked with his mother before she passed.”

Another time, Wade tracked down a unit in Iraq. A soldier had informed his family that he was going to commit suicide—the family called the Red Cross for help. Wade doesn’t remember exactly when, but sometime on that 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. shift he walked down to the unit and woke up the First Sergeant to let him know what was going on.

Wade knows that even the small things the Red Cross does can go a long way toward providing relief. When American citizens were being evacuated from Lebanon in 2008, they were routed through Ramstein Air Force Base where Wade was the Red Cross station manager. Service to Armed Forces staff raided the commissary, getting hold of all the bottled water and snacks in stock. “It is incredible how thankful the repatriates were,” he remembers.

“I picked up on the value of Red Cross service to the military and their families on my first assignment,” Wade says. He talks about the “amazing feeling” of a soldier crying on his shoulder after receiving devastating news through emergency communications. He talks about how motivating it is to be deployed with troops, whether in Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan. Wade has served in all three battle zones.

The legacy of service Anita McPherson passed on to her son is highly valued in the Walrond family. “If mother hadn’t raised me with these values, money would be my motivator,” Wade comments.

“Working for the Red Cross satisfies me, it meets my personal values,” he says. “I can go home and say ‘I did good today’.”