In March, deadly tornadoes ripped through Tennessee, devastating many who lived in Nashville and surrounding areas. Sadly, military and veteran families were among those who were hit the hardest. After seeing the destruction, Tonya Glasgow, a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Specialist in Tennessee, knew she needed to jump in and help. Keep reading to learn about her experiences helping these military communities recover from disaster.
Tonya, how do you support the military and veteran communities at the Red Cross?
At the Red Cross, we serve active-duty military, veterans, the National Guard, Reserves and their family members. We help in so many different ways! We follow up on emergency calls from service members and their families in times of crisis, and assist with financial aid through our Hero Care Network and the military aid societies. We have volunteers at veteran and military hospitals; we brief families on what to expect when their family member has just joined the military; we provide refreshments to our local guard members and their families at Welcome Home Events and comfort kits to our deployed troops. We also hold a Military Kids Serve Too event every year for military children and support homeless veterans in finding housing and employment. The list goes on!
After the tornadoes struck in Nashville, how did you identify veterans and military families in need?
I immediately went to work looking for people to help. I contacted the Tennessee National Guard and asked how many guard members had been impacted. They granted me permission to call each person. So, I called every family on that list and asked them, “What do you need and how can we help?” Then we went to work trying to meet as many of those needs as possible. We also went to the hardest hit areas in search of veterans’ homes, and we worked with the local Veterans Service Office to offer our assistance in reaching out to the veterans in the area.
So many people lost everything; the devastation was massive. But I was so impressed at how resilient the veterans and military families were. Even though they had lost so much, they were still so happy because their families were all safe. That was their main concern.
Can you share some stories of people that were helped?
We helped so many amazing people. There was a Sergeant Major who had served six tours in Iraq. He and his family had recently completed building their dream retirement home. Then the tornado hit, and nothing was left but the concrete slab. Fortunately, they survived, and he was so thankful for that. Most of their items can be replaced, but some items could not, like their family Bible and his purple heart award. We were able to provide them with toiletries, food, water and clothing, and we connected them with grants and other resources in the community. They even continued to pay it forward by helping others in their neighborhood. They are a truly remarkable and inspiring family.
There was also a Vietnam veteran who was seriously impacted by the tornado and lost most of his belongings. As with most of the other veterans that we offered assistance to, he proudly said that he didn’t need anything. I asked him his shoe size, knowing that we had one pair of combat boots donated by the 118th Air Wing of the Tennessee Air Guard. The shoes just happened to be his size and he was so happy when we handed them to him!
There was also a Specialist serving in the National Guard with eight children who needed help. One of the children was a premature baby that had to be on constant oxygen. Then the tornado hit, damaging their home and both of their vehicles. Having transportation was crucial so they could get the baby to and from the hospital for her appointments. Luckily, we were able to assist them with the insurance deductibles for their vehicles to be repaired, thanks to a generous donation from VFW Post 1970 in Nashville. We also brought them clothes, food, water and some toys, since the children lost most of their toys. Among the donations from the Tennessee Air Guard was a brand-new tricycle. There was no doubt in my mind exactly where that needed to go. The kids were thrilled when we pulled the tricycle off the truck and gave it to them. Seeing them smile made me smile. I’m so glad that we were able to add a little bit of joy back into their lives. Those kids taught me what true resiliency was that day.
Tonya, who helps you carry out these important missions?
I could not do this alone. It takes every single volunteer stepping up! I am so thankful for the amazing group of volunteers that we have. They have such a heart for helping the military and veteran communities in the area. I also work with amazing organizations like the VA, the American Legion, VetLinx and the VFW.
Why do you specifically serve veterans and military families?
I’m a veteran and these are my brothers and sisters. In the military you learn, “never leave a soldier behind,” and I live by that. I think that once you’ve been in the service, it becomes a part of you to always be in service to others for the rest of your life. I want to make sure that no service member, veteran or their families are ever left behind. Through the Red Cross, I’m able to serve those communities, find out their needs and offer solutions.
I want to also provide them with hope. At the Red Cross, we take the time to listen and provide relief, letting them know we are there and we care.
What do you want people to know about the Red Cross?
I want people to know that the Red Cross was born on the battlefield. I think people forget that the American Red Cross was started as a service to soldiers by Clara Barton. I believe that if more people knew just how much we are doing behind the scenes to support our military, veterans and their families, then they would want to help as well!
On a personal note, I am so proud to be a Red Crosser in Tennessee. Whenever a disaster strikes or someone is in need, we take our role as the Volunteer State seriously. We never shy away from lending a helping hand.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces or would like to volunteer, click here to find out more.