By: Koby J. Langley, Senior Vice President, Service to the Armed Forces, American Red Cross
While working for President Obama two years ago, I was responsible for engaging nonprofit organizations for the White House that helped veteran and military family communities. It was an incredible honor, and in particular, seeing the President and First Lady engage with our wounded warriors was inspiring. Every month or so, either the President, First Lady, Vice President or Dr. Biden would travel to the Walter Reed Military Hospital just outside Washington, D.C. to meet with recovering warriors and their families.
A few years ago, I met a serviceman named Jeremy. He was severely wounded from an incident that took the life of the highest ranking general officer in combat since the Vietnam War, General Harold Greene. Jeremy couldn’t walk and had nearly lost all use of his left leg, which was shredded by enemy fire.
As Jeremy spoke with the President, he would smile and become visibly motivated when talking about his friends on the battlefield, and those who still came to see him as he recovered. The President chatted for quite a while with Jeremy, as he often did with guests, but then Jeremy specifically mentioned something that caught my attention.
When talking about the great care he was receiving from the medical staff at Walter Reed, he said, “I also love the Red Cross folks that visit and help me.” It was almost a side comment, and would have been easily missed, but it stuck with me for some reason.
The Best Kept (Not-So-Secret) Secret: Red Cross Military Assistance
I knew the Red Cross provided disaster assistance, and I also knew that they provided emergency communication and financial assistance to military families who needed to get home right away in the case of a medical or family emergency. I wasn’t as familiar with what they did for our wounded warriors, so I began to ask around.
After talking with the executive director of Disabled American Veterans and a few others at the American Legion and VFW, my education process was complete – based on the humanitarian example set forth by Clara Barton to care for combat wounded soldiers during the Civil War, the American Red Cross was one of the first non-profits founded to care for wounded, ill and injured military members. Today, they continue Clara Barton’s legacy in military hospitals and VA hospitals all around the world.
Quietly, professionally, always there … but always in the background.
Proud to Lead an Organization with This Kind of Impact
Today, more than 6,000 Red Cross volunteers serve on 118 military installations, 53 military treatment facilities, and more than 100 VA hospitals. They are clinicians, mental health workers, rehabilitation specialists, ER nurses, and alternative therapy specialists. They are also moms, dads, and everyday citizens just giving love, a hug, a warm blanket, or even spending the last quiet and sacred moments of a veteran’s life at their bedside as they move onto their eternal glory.
I decided that I wanted to help – I wanted to do more. I wanted to be a part of an organization that was so selflessly caring for those most in need, and doing it with such humility and grace that they were among the best kept secrets in the veteran and military family support space.
Today, I am proud to help lead these quiet professionals at the Red Cross, and consider them to be among the most humble and selfless people in our nation.
Giving Thanks to Veterans Through Selfless Service
Veterans Day is a day of celebrating our nation’s veterans and thanking them for their service. Our Red Crossers quietly thank them every day through their deeds, and I encourage all Americans to think of ways that they can thank a veteran they may know through deeds of selfless service.
If you don’t know a veteran or a wounded warrior, but you want to give back – think about volunteering with us. If you do, you may just run into Jeremy, who is now nearly fully recovered and occasionally volunteers with us at Walter Reed along with 300 other Red Cross volunteers, while gearing up for his medical retirement in a few months.
Wishing everyone a happy Veterans Day.
Learn more on how to thank our veterans and wounded warriors through service.