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 as long as she can remember, Red Cross volunteer Pat Nordel wanted to be a nurse.
“I just wanted to help people,” Nordel said. “Over the course of my childhood I’d look at my chosen career choice and think, ‘oh gosh, I have to go to school this many years’ … but it always came back to I just wanted to be a nurse.”
Nursing has come in many forms for Nordel, and in many places. A graduate from the University of Connecticut, she was commissioned into the United States Air Force Nurse Corps, where she served from 1987-1994. During her seven years of military service, which included time during the First Gulf War at a base in England, she worked medical and surgical units, in a clinic setting and in labor and delivery and newborn nursery.
It was during her first military assignment at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, that Nordel had her initial encounter with the American Red Cross. The humanitarian organization offered a damage assessment class, and since Illinois is in tornado country, she decided to sign up.
“I was hoping that if anything happened then I could take part and help out,” she said.
That never happened, but Nordel would find other opportunities to serve the Red Cross later in life.
After leaving the military and raising a family, Nordel has had a long professional career spanning several states. Her husband Dave had a 30-year military career with the Air Force so her family moved every few years.
She now works at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings.
Her love of nursing and helping others has taken her down one more path – as a disaster health services lead for the Red Cross of Idaho and Montana.
As a Red Cross volunteer, Nordel helps people impacted by disaster replace medications, supplies or items like walkers or wheelchairs. She also works with integrated care condolence teams to help verify deaths after events like house fires. She has installed smoke alarms during Sound the Alarm events and conducted shelter surveys to determine if potential shelter locations meet Red Cross needs.
In 2017, as a member of international services, Nordel traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for Centers for Disease Control funding for the Measles and Rubella Initiative, a Red Cross partnership program working to eradicate measles and rubella.
Nordel hopes to one day deploy with the Red Cross during a national disaster, but working full time makes that difficult. Until then, she will continue to provide comfort and care to families closer to home.
“I’m still hoping for that deployment piece – that’s eventually where I would like to get myself – but in the meantime I just enjoy being able to help out clients in any way I can,” she said.
And Nordel is grateful she chose a career path that has allowed her to help so many people, whether through her military service, during her professional career or as a Red Cross volunteer.
“There’s always a place, there’s always a need for nursing,” she said.
“Every time I go away from nursing for a while and come back to it I always realize how much I love it.”
JOIN THE TEAM
The Red Cross of Idaho and Montana needs more volunteer nurses like Nordel to help with its disaster health services program. These volunteers work with physicians and pharmacists to help replace medications and medical equipment for those impacted by disaster. Volunteers also work in a local disaster shelter to provide health services to families displaced from their homes.
For more information, visit at redcross.org/support/volunteer or call 208-258-0592.