In communities near and far, you can find Red Cross volunteers rolling up their sleeves and helping service members, veterans and their families. The American Red Cross provides support to the U.S. military community at every step of their career — from the time a service member takes their oath to navigating life as a veteran and each event in between. You can find support at military hospitals, on installations locally and overseas and through local chapter offices in every state. Here are the stories of three Red Crossers making a difference for the military community.
Paula Labov: Supporting Deployed U.S. Troops in Europe
Red Cross volunteer Paula Labov recently spent four months deployed to Lithuania with the American Red Cross. As members of a special unit of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) personnel, she and her colleagues deployed in support of 10 Army installations worldwide.
“The military is the one profession where you are willing to sacrifice your own life for the battle buddy next to you. I missed that bond after I retired from the Army. When this opportunity with the Red Cross came up to with Service to the Armed Forces, I thought, ‘my gosh, this is like coming home,’” Labov said.
In this role, Labov and her colleagues support the emergency communication needs of U.S. military members through the Red Cross Hero Care Network, a Congressionally chartered program that connects service members and their families in times of need. This type of support is nothing new for the American Red Cross. The organization has supported troops in every major conflict for more than 100 years — including World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. When the conflict in Ukraine escalated in February of 2022, this support continued and since that time nearly 100 trained staff have deployed to support troops by providing emergency communication messages and morale activities.
Morale and wellness activities were at the center of Labov's role in Lithuania. As a former Army senior non-commissioned officer, Labov says that physical fitness is key to mental wellness in the military. A certified yoga instructor, she taught soldiers five to six times a week. “During deployment, there’s a lot of downtime and often that’s when you need resiliency the most. Morale activities like yoga simply add to a service member’s resiliency toolbox,” she said.
“Bottom line up front: our morale activities decrease depression, suicidal tendencies and PTSD. The soldiers stay occupied and there’s something for them to look forward to,” she said.
Deborah Trimiar: Welcoming Service Members Home in D.C.
After a grueling journey back to the U.S., the first person most patients arriving from overseas on the Department of Defense's aeromedical evacuation missions see is the smiling face of a Red Cross volunteer by the name of Ms. 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.
Deborah is one of a cadre of longtime volunteers at the facility who greet soldiers, contractors or military families living overseas who need 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 Joint Base Andrews in Morningside, Maryland just outside of Washington D.C. — 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. Deborah says that oftentimes, they are simply exhausted from the their trip’s multiple stops and their medical conditions. After one night’s stay, the patients will continue to different destinations across the U.S.
“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,” Deborah said.
These 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. Due to the erratic nature of their mission, Red Cross volunteers go the extra mile to ensure their troops get the time they need to recharge. Deborah and her colleagues say they must remain flexible with the changes. “We try our best to be here, no matter what time of night or day,” she said.
Deborah said she loves connecting with these men and women. “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, she 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.
Sandra Johnson: Inspired to Give Back to Her Arkansas Community
After Sandra Johnson retired from a lengthy career as public servant, she knew she wanted to continue to give back. When her son recommended volunteering with the Red Cross, something clicked. As a military mom and military spouse, Johnson easily connected to the military families that the Red Cross serves.
“Sometimes all the families need is someone to hear and share that they understand and have gone through the same thing. I know the sacrifice veterans and their families make, and how they don’t get the recognition they deserve. My spirit is always humbled to be able to share with these individuals,” she said.
A volunteer for the past five years, Johnson currently works as casework lead, managing 32 volunteer caseworkers across Missouri and Arkansas. According to Johnson, these caseworkers help military families with all sorts of unique challenges from connecting them to community resources to facilitating Emergency Care Messages in times of need.
“It’s simple; the veterans and their family members are so worthy, the least I can do is give my time — these individuals give so much of themselves to our county.” Learn more here about how you can support military families as a Red Cross volunteer.