The first time Marine veteran Barry Burns encountered the American Red Cross was in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “I had recently moved to New Orleans and then the hurricane struck. I lost everything. Walking up to that [Emergency Response Vehicle] ERV to get a hot meal, my spirit was lifted. It wasn’t just the nourishment of my body, it was the nourishment of my heart,” Burns said.
More than 17 years later, Burns is now behind the wheel of an ERV delivering hot meals to those in need in the wake of Hurricane Ian. He says he did not give leaving his Houston home a second thought to travel to Florida to help those who needed it most.
“There are so many people in need. I’m grateful to be able to help,” he said.
Serving 500 meals in the morning and another 500 at night, Burns connected with many who approached the ERV window.
“When they heard that I had gone through the same thing after Katrina, I became a kindred spirit. It made me feel good that I could share my experience.” Burns is one of more than 20,000 Red Cross volunteers who are U.S. veterans.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 1/3 of all veterans report that they struggle with depression after military service. A Pew Research Center study found that 27% of veterans report difficulty integrating into the civilian workforce post-service. For many veterans, like Burns and his colleagues, volunteering and responding to community needs on a team is a way to rekindle shared comraderie and purpose found in a military setting.
Burns, who served in Vietnam as a crew chief on CH-53 Delta helicopters from 1969 to 1973, says that he and fellow veterans share an unbreakable bond. “In the military, we have to learn to work together. We have to work as a team. We are tough. We are tight and we do our best work as a team. That type of thinking works at the Red Cross,” he said.
Army veteran Scott Adler also answered the call to serve as a Red Cross volunteer for Hurricane Ian. “Personally, if I were in their shoes, I would want someone to come to help me,” said Adler. “And that’s what we do here in America. When we have disasters and face adversity, we step up to the plate, give each other a hand, and help get everyone on the road to recovery.”
Adler’s no stranger to helping during a disaster. A volunteer with the American Red Cross since 2014, he has been on more than a dozen Red Cross deployments — including Hurricane Harvey in 2017 in Texas.
Adler served in the Army from 1990 until 2003, including service in Desert Storm. As a member of the military police, he had to interact with all sorts of people and find solutions to complex problems. He feels he must continue serving people who need help — wherever they may be.
Adler says that the military teaches patience and dedication to the assignment. “That’s what being a veteran is all about and why we are good at this type of work,” he said.
This hurricane was Army veteran Martha Narvaez’s first time responding to a major disaster with the Red Cross. After combat deployments in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan during a 27-year career, Narvaez said a quiet retirement did not suit her.
Moving about an evacuation shelter in Clearwater, Florida, she says she’s focused on tending to the needs of those who need it most — which includes two-year-old Serenity who lost her home in the storm. Narvaez found her a doll to play with, instantly brightening the girl’s spirits. "I was in logistics in the Army for 27 years," Narvaez said, "and I know about ‘getting stuff’ for people. They are so grateful and I'm glad that we can help. It's why I love being a Red Cross volunteer."
All three veterans — Burns, Narvaez and Adler — say that the Red Cross is all about working toward a shared goal of helping others. “That’s something this Marine can relate to — there’s no ‘I’ and no ‘U’ in Red Cross. It’s all about teamwork,” Burns said.
Burns encourages fellow veterans to get involved and find something that sparks their passion.
“Whether it’s Red Cross or something else — help others. We are blessed to live in a country like this — even with a mess. We all owe each other. Veterans should get involved. Everybody can do something. There’s nothing too small to help somebody all the way.”
NATIONAL DONORS JOIN LONG LEGACY OF RED CROSS MILITARY SUPPORT
Generous donations from Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Giving Program (SAFGP) members enable the American Red Cross to maintain a global network of thousands of volunteers and employees to support the military 365 days a year through emergency communications, training, community resources and support to ill and injured service members and veterans. Contributions from partners like Lockheed Martin Corporation, Oxy, Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co., USAA and Wilf Family Foundations ensure the Red Cross is there 24/7 to provide comfort and care to members of the military, veterans and their families as they prepare for, cope with and respond to the challenges of military service.