Editor’s note: More than 75 active service members, veterans or military family member currently volunteer with the Red Cross of Idaho and Montana. If you have a military background and want to share your story of service, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For 25 years, Dave Tish served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army, leading religious services and lending an ear when his fellow soldiers needed someone to talk to. He served in Operation Desert Storm and also deployed to Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I never saw the enemy, per se, but I sure heard him,” Tish said.
Now as a volunteer with the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces program, the Greenleaf, Idaho, veteran continues to serve, offering kindness and compassion to service members and their families, this time from a much safer locale.
As part of its humanitarian mission, the American Red Cross relays urgent messages from home to active duty service members when there’s a death or serious illness in the family or during the birth of a child. A member of the client services team, Tish follows up with families to make sure those messages arrived and to see if they need any other resources or support. And his extensive military background helps him better understand what these families are going through.
“I tell people sometimes I can read between the lines,” the retired lieutenant colonel said. “The computer tells me what happened but when you read between the lines you go ‘oh man, they need another word.”
Tish’s Red Cross work can often be emotionally difficult, especially when a service member has committed suicide.
“I’m able to talk to the family or parents a little bit and say there’s other resources available and point to them and that just gives them hope or a little more closure,” he said.
“The more that we can help them in those moments and let them know they are not alone the better.”
Tish’s first Red Cross experience came when he was working at a furniture store in college. A fellow employee at the store needed blood, and Tish was “encouraged” to do his part.
“One of the other delivery guys was about six or eight inches taller than me and about 50 pounds heavier and says ‘We’re going to go donate blood.’ And I said ‘Yes sir, we are.’ And I’ve been doing it ever since.
“I’m working on my 50-gallon pin.”
Eventually Tish transitioned from simply donating blood to also helping deliver it as a Red Cross transportation specialist, helping drive lifesaving blood collected at drives back to the lab in Boise for testing and distribution.
He also volunteers at the Caldwell veterans’ hall, with several veterans’ organizations and through his church.
“It’s in my blood,” Tish said of his volunteerism.
Tish said he often saw a Red Cross presence during his military deployments, whether it was through their emergency communications or when they offered a safe place to grab a cup of coffee and make a much-needed phone call back home.
Now it’s his turn.
“You come out of a military career, and the Red Cross has taken care of us so I want to give it back,” he said.
“They told me you can’t sit back and do nothing when you retire so I’m making sure I don’t do that.”
Become a Red Cross volunteer
Are you interested in joining our team? Learn how you can support military members and their families, deliver lifesaving blood and help families recover from disaster by visiting redcross.org/volunteer or calling 800-RED-CROSS. Volunteer opportunities for almost any interest or skill set await. The training is free, but the payoff is priceless.