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Quiet Heroes: A Lifetime of Service

The Red Cross is home to many quiet heroes, some of whom have made service a lifelong occupation.

Two veterans of the Vietnam era, Al Nooft and Dan Coto, came to the American Red Cross in different ways, but what they share is a need to pay it forward.

Nooft says he will never forget the day he got a letter from the Draft Board. It was February 15, 1969. He would spend the next 30 years serving, first in the Army, then the Army National Guard and the Army Reserves.

After retiring several years ago, Nooft wanted to give back to the community for the good life he has enjoyed, so he joined the Red Cross in Columbia, S.C. Soon after he began volunteering, his wife became ill and he stepped back for a time to take care of her. After his wife‘s death, he returned to the Red Cross, and now volunteers as many hours as most of us spend at our full-time jobs.

American Red Cross disaster volunteers Al Nooft and Dan Coto in Columbia, S.C. Photo: Anna Kate Christophillis/American Red Cross.

Along with serving his community, Nooft’s wish to serve across the country has been fulfilled. He has been deployed with the Red Cross three times this year—to North Dakota and Memphis to help after spring floods, and to New Jersey after Hurricane Irene hit. He is trained in sheltering and has served as an associate, supervisor and manager.

Dan Coto was born and raised in New York City. He entered the Army in 1966 and was stationed in the southern region of Vietnam, between Saigon and Tin Ninh, as a tank commander. After serving his country in war, he went back to New York to get his degree and become an accountant. During the ensuing years he served as a volunteer firefighter and EMT in New York and Florida.

Eight months ago, Coto came to the Red Cross in Columbia to offer his services. He says he saw the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan and became excited about the mission of the Red Cross. He was quickly trained and put to work; Coto now serves as a government liaison and as the regional training lead, as well as a captain on the Disaster Action Team (DAT).

Coto says he sees his work at the Red Cross as an extension of his service to his country in the Army and as a volunteer firefighter/EMT.

“It’s in my gut to be a volunteer,” Coto said. “It started with the fire department and never went away.”

Coto was deployed with the Red Cross to Binghamton, N.Y., for five weeks after Hurricane Irene. He says he loves using his brain again and enjoys the staff and other volunteers. He is at the Red Cross office in Columbia between 35 to 40 hours each week.

Service is ingrained in both these men. Both say their time serving in the Armed Forces altered their views of responsibility and leadership. So today, when you see a veteran, thank him or her for their service—you might just be talking to a Red Cross volunteer, too.