In a time where the Coronavirus pandemic has drawn the eyes of the community, closed business, and canceled events, how can we celebrate those who fought and continue to fight for our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness? National Military Appreciation Month has been recognized annually in the month of May since 1999, to encourage citizens to look at this month as a symbol of unity and appreciation for current and former service members of the U.S Armed Forces. Memorial Day, an important holiday to honor the lives of women and men who sacrificed their own lives serving in the U.S. military, take place annually on the last Monday of May. Sadly, some events that celebrated Memorial Day were canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, but this does not mean that our heroes can’t still be admired and honored. On the contrary, rather than celebrating during a single holiday, why not appreciate our veterans every day?
Robert McConnachie has not only helped people as an active volunteer with the Red Cross as a part of the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) and Disaster Action Teams (DAT), but throughout his entire life as well. He was a member of the U.S Army for three years but the introduction to the life of a soldier began earlier on. Robert’s father was in the Air Force for 28 years and as a child, he remembers growing up in different places all over the world such as Ohio, Louisiana, New York, Maine, and Spain. In 1967, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and began his service for the U.S. Army.
On the morning of October of the same year, he was transferred to Vietnam for 360 days. Following his time in Vietnam, he spent time in Oklahoma and ended his service in Germany. After years of moving from place to place, he says “you made friends and then left them.” He wrote letters to the friends he left who never responded. He often wondered if he’d ever hear from or see these friends again. Luckily, thirty years later, one of those friends found him. The memories they shared reminded Robert that home isn’t a location, but rather the people.
On June 13, 2014, like the friend who found him, the Red Cross did too. He says “I’m a people person” which is why he joined as a volunteer to help people, and when working in Disaster Assessment and Disaster Relief with DAT, he does just that. “When you are deployed to an area where a disaster has occurred, the first thing is to shelter, to take care of the people because they lost everything to floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires. The Red Cross is for the people,” he says. “Have you ever walked in a place where a Tornado has been? Walking through trailer parks It’s incredible, the people are still standing there, and they need help” he says. When Robert volunteers following a disaster, he speaks with locals from the area first to understand the community and what they have been through from their perspective.
“Being part of the Disaster Action Team, the volunteers are in the field a lot, driving 10 to 12 hours, personalities clash, but you have to help the people” he says. He remembers after a long drive, a lady came to him and said “Robert” as she wrapped her arms around him “thanks for driving out here so far” and with tears in his eyes he responded, “well, I’m supposed to do that for you”.
The Red Cross has inspired Robert because of how they help people in times of crisis. Most recently, in response to the severe Miami-Dade flooding, Robert put together a team to assess the damage of the area and help those that are unable to stay in their homes.
Robert, also as a SAF volunteer, helps his fellow veterans to cope with everyday activities. While visiting a veteran in the hospital, the veteran didn’t speak fluent English. As a result, Robert started to learn Spanish from him. He says that the most important thing is to “take the time to talk to them.” Robert and the SAF team not only work with veterans, but current members of the military and their families as well. Robert says “It's nice to see a veteran smiling and laughing when we walk in. I feel that I accomplished something today for myself and my fellow veteran. Such an inspiring feeling.”
When speaking to Robert, the question was asked, “what keeps you from never giving up?” And Robert responded, “because it is my persona, right now I need a lung transplant and because of my positivity people can’t believe I’ve needed one since March.”
Robert helps to create unity in times of disasters, “right now the country is divided, we need a hero like Captain America” he jokes. Little does he know that the long car rides, conversations, genuine care, and his overall words and actions make him a hero to those that are vulnerable.
Volunteers like Robert, who help others without question, restore hope and healing to those that have lost so much. At the Red Cross, we celebrate and thank dedicated volunteers like Robert for the good they continue to do for the community. Because of Robert’s commitment and service to the Red Cross, he has been awarded the Service to the Armed Forces Volunteer of the Year Award! Through his dedication, passion, and devotion to serving Veterans and disaster victims, he consistently demonstrates the true value of what it takes to be a Red Crosser.
To become a Service to the Armed Forces or Disaster Action Team volunteer, visit redcross.org/SFLVolunteer. To learn more about Service to the Armed Forces programs, visit redcross.org/SAF.
Written by Maria Arango