When you come to the Red Cross of the Lowcountry Chapter Office on most days, one of the first faces you see is Gary Gardner.
Gardner, a veteran and Red Cross volunteer for over a decade, sits near the door waiting to help in any way that he can.
“It is simply the satisfaction of being able to help someone,” said Gardner.
Gary Gardner is originally from Ohio but spent 20 years as active duty Navy. He served tours in Jacksonville, Key West, Maine, and Maryland while working with the Naval Aviation Unit.
Gardner says it was always a part of him to serve. Both of his brothers were in the Navy and he followed in their footsteps.
Gardner was aware of the Red Cross and its work but had his first personal experience when his father passed away. The Red Cross helped Gardner with emergency leave so he could attend his father’s funeral.
In 1995, Gary and his wife moved to Charleston where his wife was a Red Cross volunteer and worked in the naval hospital health clinic. Gardner continued work in Civil Service.
In 2008, after retiring, Gardner started volunteering with the Red Cross because he was familiar with the organization and wanted to stay busy by serving others.
Gary has spent over a decade volunteering for the Red Cross and most of that time has been spent in Disaster Services. He has received the manager position in both Sheltering and Recovery Case Work. He has deployed multiple times from hurricanes, to tornadoes, to floods, to wildfires. He has also been involved in Operation Management and most recently helped with staffing and training during Hurricane Dorian.
“You get a lot of hugs and you get a lot of ‘Thank you,’ said Gardner. “You meet so many wonderful people when doing that case work.”
Gardner remembers once doing case work after a fire destroyed a mobile home. The family lost everything, but Gary was able to give them some comfort kits full of supplies.
“I remember that because she grabbed the bags, hugged them and said, ‘now I have stuff.’ That was pretty impactful,” Gardner recalls.
Over a decade later, Gary Gardner stands ready to deploy if needed and says through those deployments, he had made lifelong friends and connections that span the nation.
It has always been something that Gary Gardner enjoys—serving. It is what drove him to serve in the military and it is what drives him today to continue to serve as a Red Cross Volunteer.
“I think it is just kind of my nature,” Gardner smiled.
In just a matter of hours, Earl Woodberry went from jumping out of planes in the Central American jungle to sitting in Andrews Air Force base with nothing but his rucksack and peaches. Woodberry was a Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne in 1978. He was training in the jungle, when the news came.
“All of a sudden a helicopter came in. A few minutes, the company commander and platoon leader came up and they said, ‘sorry to inform you but your father passed away last night,’” he remembered.
Immediately, Woodberry was on a helicopter and then a plane to North America. After several trips,
Woodberry landed at Andrew’s AFB in the middle of the night, with no money.
“You didn’t need money in the jungle,” Woodberry said with a laugh.
He’d have to rely on his c-rations to get him by. To make matters more difficult, the only plane available to take him to Fort Bragg, NC was a C-130 Blackbird. That would allow him travel on to Mullins, SC for his father’s funeral. He didn’t have a security clearance, which meant no flight out until late the next morning.
That changed after a conversation with a General who stumbled upon Woodberry sitting by himself on his rucksack.
“A few minutes later, this lady in a Red Cross dress and uniform came up to me and said, ‘Sergeant, I understand that you don’t have any money. I have this check and need you to sign it. Then, I’ll cash it for you,’” he recollected.
In addition to getting him money immediately, the Red Cross and the General found a way to get Woodberry home on that C-130.
Fast forward 40 years -- Woodberry has found a new purpose: helping military families throughout Lowcountry. His Woodberry’s position is possible because of a grant through AmeriCorp’s Frontline Families program. A retired school teacher from Berkeley County, he now briefs service members and their families about Red Cross services before they’re deployed.
“Lots of times, we’ll see a service member deploy, and their spouses don’t know what to do when an emergency happens. We want them to get to know us before they need us.”
While it’s been forty years since he needed help, what remains a defining memory for Woodberry was the sight of that Red Cross uniform in the middle of the night.
“I remember it so well because it was like 3 o’clock in the morning, and the Red Cross was there, bright and early to help. It’s one of those things I’ve never forgotten,” he said.
For more information on how the Red Cross helps service members, their families and veterans, go to redcross.org/military.