By Yasmeen Saadi
American Red Cross
Today, when some task needs attention, Lee England is the man for the job.
That state of mind was not always the case for Lee, who described his prior retired life as a “Facebook Warrior” -- sitting on the couch in front of the television all day. However, his perspective and his overall lifestyle completely changed after surviving prostate cancer two years ago.
“The day they told me I had cancer and the factors contributing to it, I looked back and said, ‘What have I been doing? What the heck have I been doing?’“ Lee said. “It was like someone took the lampshade off my head. I didn’t know. Seven years went by without me even realizing it.”
His desire to volunteer prompted Lee to join several services including the American Red Cross, Veterans of Foreign War and the American Legion.
Lee joined the Red Cross in June 2019 as a Service to Armed Forces caseworker. Since then, he has joined the Disaster Action Team in addition to helping organize events, installing smoke alarms, working in the warehouse and more.
“I’ve known about the Red Cross since I was a child, and of course, being in the military, we dealt with the Red Cross all the time,” Lee said. “So, I was familiar with them, and after I saw a flier, looked at the website, I reached out. An hour later, I got a phone call.”
The sense of unity and camaraderie among Red Cross volunteers is one of Lee’s favorite volunteering benefits. When he first joined, he bonded quickly with other veterans and enjoyed joking around with them.
“If someone says something to you, just turn around and give it back to him double,” Lee said with a laugh.
Lee spent his entire career in the Army working in satellite communications. He was deployed across the globe, from Somalia to South Korea to Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, due to an injury that fused the bones in his neck and spine that prevented him from wearing body armor or firing a weapon, Lee accepted retirement.
“I wasn’t thinking about retirement, so I wasn’t ready to quit; they just told me my body quit on me.”
After undergoing neck surgery, Lee’s range of motion is still slightly limited, but it does not stop him from staying active. He regularly runs 5Ks, enjoys camping, operates forklifts in the Red Cross warehouse, and does not plan on slowing down anytime soon.
With the Red Cross, Lee has regularly been deployed around the St. Joseph, Missouri area to respond to disasters. One of his most memorable moments occurred when he and the Smoke Alarm team went to Lansing, Kansas, to canvas the neighborhoods and install smoke alarms.
“What stands out most was how everyone stuck together,” Lee said. “We had Boy Scouts, everyone with whom I had ever worked alongside in the Red Cross was there, plus all the Fire Department workers and the Police Department. We all canvassed scores of neighborhoods and installed fire alarms. So we must have installed over 150 smoke alarms, just in one day.”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Lee has joined Red Cross Blood Services to help screen and greet donors during blood drives. Lee also keeps busy with a new program that started at the VFW called MO Vets Outdoors. He is the lead for the 17 counties in his VFW district.
MO Vets Outdoors started about a year ago and has since garnered nationwide attention. This program addresses veteran suicides and mobilizes veterans to participate in outdoor activities such as hunting and archery.
“[MO Vets Outdoors] is getting everybody off their couches, and it seems like I have some experience in that region,” Lee said.
With all of his service lines, Lee has undoubtedly spent less time on his couch and hopes he will never go back to his sedentary lifestyle. With the Red Cross, he hopes to continue volunteering and helping out in any way possible.
“I’m not in public affairs,” Lee explained. “I can’t come up with those catchphrases, but [when I think of the Red Cross] I keep thinking ‘One team, one fight.’ It’s a good family.”