After a grueling journey back to the United States, the first person most patients arriving from overseas on the Department of the Defense's aeromedical evacuation missions see is the smiling face of American Red Cross volunteer Deborah Trimiar.
Trimiar, who has an enormous presence despite standing just over five feet tall, greets patients with a cold drink, a warm smile and a joke. “I tell these young guys, ‘Hey don’t mess with me. I’m taller than you are,’ and that breaks the ice, gets them laughing. Sometimes, I simply say, ‘welcome home,’” she said.
Trimiar is one of a cadre of longtime volunteers at Joint Base Andrews in Morningside, Maryland just outside of Washington D.C. She and fellow volunteers assist soldiers, contractors or military families arriving from overseas in need of more comprehensive medical care than their duty station or remote operational location can provide. Those arriving have a wide range of injuries — from mild to severe.
Each week, a new flight arrives from Landstuhl, Germany and lands at Andrews — the aeromedical hub for the East Coast region. Sick patients, exhausted after a long journey, stop at the En Route Patient Staging System to receive medical care before continuing to their final military facility or hospital stateside. While patients are routed through Germany, their original location could have been Africa, the Middle East or Europe. Trimiar says that oftentimes, they are simply exhausted from their trip’s multiple stops and their medical conditions.
A Smiling Face to Welcome You Home
“Most of these men and women haven’t been back to the states in several years. This is their first time home, and it is under challenging circumstances. We want to provide that touch of home,” Trimiar said.
Carol Kern, who has volunteered at Andrews for more than two decades, says that these small gestures of serving a meal or offering snacks and toiletry items matter to service members. “We know this is low-key, but we love that we are helping the military in our small way,” she said.
Kern says that flights can come in at any time of the day and arrival and departure times can change in an instant due to weather, scheduling conflicts or other unforeseen circumstances. But, she says, it’s all part of the job and that she and fellow volunteers remain flexible. “We feel that it’s important to go the extra mile to ensure the troops get the time they need to recharge,” she said.
Support Through Challenges
Trimiar’s favorite part of volunteering with service members is connecting with them during a challenging time. “If I see a young man on crutches, I ask him if we can reschedule our dancing date,” she said. “That usually gets them laughing and talking.”
Sometimes patients don’t want to talk and Trimiar says that’s okay too. “We don’t know what they’re going through and all of their challenges. We just want them to know the Red Cross is here to support them,” she said.
“I just love seeing these people and making them feel special,” she said. As an Army veteran, she knows how important the Red Cross is to service members and their families. “I’ve been volunteering for the Red Cross since I was in high school. I always come back to it. I come back to help others.”
Making the Experience Special
“When the troops get off a bus, it’s great for them to see a civilian,” said volunteer Gary Dinan Like Trimiar, Dinan is also a veteran. He says with his military background it’s easy for him to connect with the service members that pass through the facility.
“Sometimes a service member will have to be medically evacuated quickly — without extra clothes or toiletries. We provide those supplies and can help ease the transition back to the states,” he said. “The military doesn’t depend on us to do the mission; we just make the experience special. What we do is simple. We help the troops. We help the staff.”
Red Cross volunteer Sridharan Srinivasan agrees with Dinan. He says that often the most important part of this job is letting people know you’re there for them. “You’re dealing with people who are having their worst day. You’re supporting them — providing them a meal, a snack and the comfort of home. It’s a little thing but we think it helps,” Srinivasan said.