For Black History Month, we are honoring Black men and women whose contributions are essential to our humanitarian mission. This week, we are highlighting Gerald Thomas, the Chief Operating Officer for the Los Angeles region of the American Red Cross, whose long history serving in the U.S. Marine Corps led him to serve his community through the Red Cross.
In 1988, Gerald enlisted in the Marine Corps during his sophomore year at Augusta State University, as an opportunity to serve and finish his education.
He spent more than 20 years in the Marine Corps serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he held positions as a Commanding Officer of Lima Company for the 3rd Battalion Second Marines and as a Deputy Director – Marine Corps Liaison for the U.S. House of Representatives. As a Deputy Director, he led congressional delegations and worked closely with members of Congress to advocate for Marine Corps Policies and Programs.
Having the opportunity to impact the lives of some of the best and brightest young leaders is what motivated Gerald to serve his country over the years.
As a Commanding Officer, he led a team of 250 Marines into combat and recalls how bringing them all back home was one of his proudest moments.
“I stood in front of those families before we left, and I was in charge to take care of their sons,” he said. “Being able to come back home almost six months later and say, ‘Here are your Marines,’ was one of the most impactful things for me.”
When he retired from the Marine Corps in 2009, he took on a role in the U.S. Senate as a lead staffer for a Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. His work in defense and national security policies led him to a fellow Red Crosser, Koby Langley, the Senior Vice President of International Services and Service to the Armed Forces (SAF).
That connection would lead Gerald to a volunteer opportunity with the Red Cross in Washington, D.C.
“I was going back to school, not working at the time, but looking for an opportunity to volunteer and give back,” he said. “That’s when Koby reached out to me with the opportunity to volunteer with SAF at the Red Cross.”
Gerald may have started as volunteer at the Red Cross, but it wasn’t the first time he came across the organization and the services it provides.
“Early in my Marine Corps career, I actually found out that my oldest son had been born through a Red Cross emergency communication message,” he said. “That was my first experience with the Red Cross and how they support us.”
Through that same emergency communication service, the Red Cross also helped him get back home after his grandmother passed away.
After seven months of volunteering with the Red Cross, Gerald went on to become SAF’s Director of Strategic Planning of Program Management. For two years, he focused on expanding the Hero Care Network by solidifying the connection between call centers and caseworkers on the field to better support the needs of military members, veterans and their families.
To this day, the Hero Care Network provides 24/7 emergency communications and critical services to military families across the world.
“When we are in a disaster response in Florida, we can have caseworkers from other places, like California, support families as if they were actually there,” he said. “They can give them the same level of care and service.”
Today, you can find Gerald as the Chief Operating Officer for the Los Angeles Region, where he serves more than 10 million residents in 88 cities across Los Angeles County. In his role, he’s responsible for the day-to-day operations of the staff and volunteers who make up the Red Cross’ LA workforce.
Since he can remember, Gerald has volunteered in his local community and has even coached Little League, but leading teams and serving overseas is what guided him to a career and life of service.
“That’s when I thought, if I can make that level of transformative change in other countries, I can do that here,” he said. “That is what really moved me to be in the non-profit sector.”
Because of Red Crossers, like Gerald, our mission is made possible. From military life to leading a Red Cross region, Gerald’s level of commitment and service is worth recognizing.
Thank you, Gerald for all you do for the Red Cross and the people in your community! Most importantly, we thank you for your service and sacrifice to this country.