I am honored to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change on behalf of the American Red Cross. The journey I’ve been on with the Red Cross started as a very personal one, but along the way it has brought me into contact with countless extraordinary people, both in the Red Cross and in the U.S. military.
Twenty-five years ago I was living in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts, and was going through a very difficult time. My back had been broken, leaving me immobile for months. While I was recovering, I watched a lot of television—at that time, there were a lot of fires in the area, and I kept seeing the Red Cross on the news. Although I was studying to become a CPA, seeing how the Red Cross was helping people planted a seed in my mind of what I wanted to do once I was well again. .
After working for years in Disaster Services, I was looking for a new challenge. I immediately thought of Service to the Armed Forces (SAF)—ever since I joined the Red Cross and saw how the organization helped the military, I knew I wanted to help, too. I grew up near a reserve base near Boston, watching soldiers coming and going. My dad and four of my brothers had served in the military, so that may have influenced me as well. After my children finished high school, I applied for an SAF mobile staff job, which meant I could be sent to a military installation anywhere in the world. My first assignment was at an army base in Baumholder, Germany. This was my first time in another country, as well as my first time on a military installation, but after a few months of adjustment, I was hooked. I was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and again in 2008, where our team handled emergency communications and helped to lift morale for those far from home.
In 2006 I received a promotion to Senior Station Manager and was sent to Yokota Air Base in Japan, where I was based for the next five years. This base became a combination of my work with the military and with disaster services. While I was there, our team went through a volcanic eruption, ice storm, typhoons, and floods that led to the evacuation of military housing. We arranged shelter for military families whose homes were flooded, opened a 24-hour reception center, provided transportation and communication assistance, and finally offered free childcare while families moved back into housing.
In February 2011 we held a week-long disaster institute at the Yokota Air Base, which included instruction on running a shelter and the Red Cross Safe and Well website. Not long after this training was held the earthquake and tsunami hit. For the next few months, we worked 24 hours a day with the help of hundreds of volunteers—most of them military families and some volunteers from the Japanese Red Cross. In support of military efforts, our team provided sheltering assistance for the grounded Delta flights whose 650 passengers spent the night in a Community Center immediately after the earthquake, and we helped more than 5,000 military families who chose to voluntarily evacuate from Japan. We also provided 24/7 canteen services to relief workers and Emergency Operations Center personnel for two months after the event, and prepared 80 apartments to be used as housing for incoming military relief workers. This was an exhausting experience, but it was also one of the most rewarding in my career. We were not only able to help thousands of people, but we were also an outlet for the many spontaneous volunteers who wanted to help through the Red Cross.
After leaving Japan, I was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, where I’m currently working. Since I’ve been here we’ve held special events for military families, partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project, offered disaster preparedness workshops on base—all in addition to the emergency communications we provide year-round. We’ve also conducted training on shelter operations for military personnel, lending our expertise to their planning and readiness for disasters. After 25 years with the Red Cross, I’m excited to continue my journey, wherever they choose to send me—wherever there is a need. And, wherever I can combine my disaster and military support experience to help service members and their families become better prepared for emergencies.