While working in Germany, I met Harold West, who simply goes by “West.” He came to volunteer with our organization by an act of kindness that occurred more than 40 years ago.
West went into the Army right after high school. He was one of the last group of folks who had draft numbers and quickly found himself serving during the Vietnam War. West says that it was a good experience for him, but during his service, he learned that his brother-in-law passed away.
“That’s when the Red Cross contacted me. They helped me out quite a bit and offered support. I never forgot it,” he said.
He recalled that this assistance was a defining moment in his life — a moment when kindness prevailed during the hardest of times.
Many moons later, West’s story has come full circle. He recently deployed to Romania on behalf of the Red Cross as a member of Team 50 — a unit 21 of Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) personnel. He and his colleagues are deployed for three to four months to 10 Army installations around the globe.
Since the conflict in Ukraine escalated almost a year ago, nearly 70 trained staff have deployed to support troops. Fun fact — this is nothing new for the American Red Cross. We have supported troops in every major conflict for more than 100 years — including World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
West says that he never forgot about that emergency message. Now that he’s retired, he wanted to see what he could do to help the next generation of soldiers. “This has been a life-long dream of mine, to serve in this capacity,” he said. He says he plans to hit the ground running and that he’s ready to boost the spirits of soldiers through morale activities such as fun runs, bingo nights and cooking classes.
“It’s about spending time together and easing that tension and stress that accumulates when you’re away from home. We want to provide a little fun to make life easier for these men and women.”
Like many veterans I know, it’s easy for him to relate to the challenges of service that today’s soldiers face. “It’s been a long time since I was in the Army, but the feelings are the same and many of the challenges are universal.”
West anticipates that emergency care messages will be a critical component of his role during this deployment. “It’s important that we are there during the worst of times,” he said. If a family experiences an emergency, the Red Cross will verify that emergency and work with unit commanders to notify the service member. If leave is granted from the command, the Red Cross works with military aid societies to help get the soldier home.
“This component of the job is near and dear to my heart because of my own experience in Vietnam.”
West told me that the Red Cross is often the link between home and the military. “We keep everyone together because it really does help.” I just love that about West. Signing up to help, giving back, and paying it forward to the next generation. Kudos to him and his colleagues for their important and heartfelt mission.
If you’d like to learn more about the work we do to support service members, veterans and their families across the country and around the world, click here.