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Retired Army officer sails into Red Cross

Heart of Missouri Red Cross, Retired Army Officer Sails into Red Cross, News photo

Sailing may seem an unlikely motive to live in Pulaski County, but when American Red Cross Heart of Missouri Chapter volunteer Bill Grier retired from the military the Fort Leonard Wood area was the perfect choice for his family.

“I was never assigned out here in my 27 years in the Army,” said Grier, who closed out his career as a lieutenant colonel while living in Leavenworth, Kan. “The reason I came here is because I have a sailboat. It’s a small sailboat on the Lake of the Ozarks.

“My wife and I drew a circle of one-hour driving time from the Lake. We said let’s go look for a house a little closer to our sailboat. It just so happened that this area is within about an hour of the Lake of the Ozarks and has the advantage of being close to an Army base where we can commissary shop.”

So when it came time to move, Grier and his family settled about halfway between Waynesville and Crocker.

Grier brought his volunteer spirit with him and was part of another organization when he moved. His plan was to continue with that group, but it “didn’t pan out.”

He took his volunteer skills to the county health department, but that, too, had its drawbacks, but while he was there in 2000 he met a female employee who was a Red Cross volunteer.

The woman told him the Red Cross needed volunteers and that’s when he signed up.

“It is funny how that happened,” said the father of two grown children and the grandfather of two. “I wasn’t planning on joining the Red Cross.”

The chapter has been the beneficiary of that meeting for 14 years.

By his count, Grier has responded to 110 fires since becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

“I’ve got a log at home and I keep track of every fire I’ve been out on,” he said. “It averages probably two or three people per fire. There was one where there were 11 people squeezed into a little house. That was the most.

“And there’s been a bunch where there just been a single guy in a trailer. A couple folks and a kid is about the norm around here. I guess it’s been between 200 and 250 folks I’ve worked face to face with to get help.”

Grier, who began his Army career as an enlisted man before becoming an officer, has also helped himself during his tenure with the Red Cross.

His originally volunteered in client casework and sheltering, but after deploying on some larger disaster relief operations (DRO) he saw “some really cool stuff the Red Cross does” and decided to broaden his skill set.

Grier completed training in equipment and logistics and became qualified to operate a forklift. He later took the training to become an emergency response vehicle (ERV) driver.

He used his ERV skills while deployed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as a client casework supervisor. He did that during the week, but spent his weekends driving an ERV.

“I didn’t want to take the weekends off,” he said.

Grier continues a full schedule to share the Red Cross mission with area residents, but is doing so with fewer people now than when he started.

“I’ve personally gotten involved in efforts to try and recruit,” said Grier, who served as the Red Cross liaison to the emergency operation center (EOC) during the August 2013 flood in the county. “I’ve gone to meetings of organizations with my vest on and made a pitch. There’s a lot of interest. People will contact you, but there’s been a very small amount of folks that follow up and execute the training.”

His goal is to have 10 trained disaster action team (DAT) responders in Pulaski County. He wants those 10 to have additional training in shelter operations and disaster assessment.

Grier also intends to have volunteers attend events in Pulaski County communities.

“All of our small towns have a big day each year,” said Grier, who plans to have the first of quarterly or semi-annual meetings of Pulaski County volunteers on March 29. “Dixon has Cow Days. Crocker has Railroad Days. Waynesville has Pioneer Days. We’re going to try and increase Red Cross visibility in the county and divide this workload among the few of us we have.”

Grier’s part-time job as an on-line economics instructor for Webster University in St. Louis takes him to China for two months during the year which keeps his Red Cross responses close to home.

“As you can imagine, when you’re gone from the U.S. for two months a year it takes about a month to get ready to go and it takes about a month to recover when you get back,” he said. “So, it takes three or four months out of the year and all the other stuff I like to do gets put on hold. My wife’s job gets put on hold. Right now I’m not deploying. I’m just doing the local stuff.”

He said he has every intention of continuing his work with the Red Cross for as long as he can.

“First, our county really needs the help,” he said. “We have a saying in our county that most of the folks, at least a lot of them, ‘don’t have two nickels to rub together.’”

Many Pulaski County clients have no insurance. Incomes are small and residents require a lot of help after a disaster.

“It’s very rare that you walk up to a place where a house had burned down and somebody has a place to go, has insurance and has income,” he said. “ So, when you can help a family that’s been standing out in the cold and put them up in a motel for a couple of nights, give them a debit card for some food and clothing and arrange for them to get a little more help, you get a lot of job satisfaction in this county.”