Story by Kathleen Todd for the American Red Cross Minnesota Region
On Veterans Day, the American Red Cross honors people like Sharon Azan.
In 1985, Sharon Azan was stationed in Naples, Italy, with the United States Air Force when she got a call from the American Red Cross. Five thousand miles away, Azan’s uncle had passed away, and her family contacted the Red Cross to relay an urgent message about his death.
It was that one phone call—all those years ago—that recently prompted Azan to connect with the American Red Cross in Minnesota. Now, she’s training to become a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteer.
“I figured this was a good time for me to help someone else,” Azan says. “I am so appreciative of what the Red Cross does and what it stands for.”
For more than 100 years, the Red Cross has been hard at work supporting the men and women of the American armed forces. Today, no matter where American armed service members are in the world, the Red Cross is dedicated to delivering emergency communications messages through the American Red Cross Hero Care Network, which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The Red Cross provides around 370,000 services each year to active-duty military, veterans, and their families—including more than 3,000 in Minnesota last fiscal year. In addition to emergency communications, the Minnesota Red Cross provides courses and workshops to help military families cope with life after deployments.
The Red Cross invites you to say “thanks” by signing and sending cards through Holidays for Heroes to U.S. military and veterans. Click here for information, including where cards to send cards, the program deadline, and other important guidelines for the cards.
During this time of year, Red Cross volunteers in Northern Minnesota are particularly busy supporting Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MAC-V) ‘Stand Down’ events, collecting and distributing Holiday Mail for Heroes cards for local military members and veterans, and participating in Veterans Day events. These activities help fulfill our Service to the Armed Forces, which is a core service that the American Red Cross delivers. And, is always an honor to provide.
“It felt like a scoop of ice cream”
At the Veteran Stand Down event in August in Virginia, MN, one of our newest volunteers, Wendy Frederickson, and an experienced disaster relief volunteer, Lisa Kvas, participated in the event as their first time delivering Red Cross services to military members and veterans. Wendy shared that the best part of participating in Red Cross work with veterans was the privilege to meet a Vietnam War veteran named Richard Krisean, who had never attended a veteran-focused event since returning from Vietnam.
Richard was a Radar Intercept Officer with the Marines in Vietnam and flew in 192 combat missions. Wendy shared that Richard’s experience in returning from Vietnam was not positive at all and that Richard was shocked at the depth and breadth of the services that were made available at the event for veterans.
Richard shared his point of view: “What I took from going to the Veteran’s Stand Down in Virginia was the openness of all of the organizations, but the Red Cross particularly was so open and helped Veterans break down the barriers of sharing their experiences – in my case in Vietnam. The Red Cross volunteers Wendy and Lisa were just so open and wanted to know your story, and there were no walls and no barriers, they were just there to help the veterans. That made me a little emotional, which I usually don’t get in front of other people.”
When Richard was asked about his experience with the Red Cross while he was serving in Vietnam, Richard said: “When I was on a medivac flight back from Vietnam, it was so nice to see people like that. They really cared about me when they were giving me coffee or donuts, and after being shot at in Vietnam and everything else that was going on – it felt like a big scoop of ice cream, that is how I felt.”
Wendy said that when she was sitting down with Richard for lunch that she told him that “Something is telling my heart that you are the reason I am here today.” Richard said that he felt the same way. Lisa Kvas added, “Meeting Richard really struck home to me as to how proud that we really are of all of them. Showing that, and sharing that, was really much more important than the blanket that we handed them. That is what has the impact.” When Lisa was asked about what it might take for a volunteer to be able to make a difference with our Service to the Armed Forces, she shared that it is very similar to the qualities that make a good disaster volunteer – compassion and hope.
This year, we had the added resource of new blankets to give out to the veterans attending the Stand Down events in Virginia, Duluth, Grand Rapids, and Bemidji though a partnership with the Duluth Fire Department. Through a national charity, we were able to give out 1,000 blankets to both veterans at these events, as well as to victims of disaster across our Northern Minnesota Chapter area.
80% of success is ‘showing up’
Our take is that that 80% of success is ‘showing up.’ This means two of the most important pieces of the work we do with our military service members and veterans at the Northern Minnesota Chapter are 1) showing up; and 2) not waiting for our military heroes to raise a hand for help. By making a commitment to being at events that support our military units and veterans, it gives us the opportunity to make a difference when it is needed.
Though programs like Holiday Mail for Heroes, we distribute bundles of holiday cards written by local community members to all of the members of the units we support locally; as well as to all of the veterans living in nursing homes that we supply cards to. The reason is that on any given day it is impossible to identify exactly who would benefit from getting the bundle of cards thanking them for their service and wishing them a great holiday season. By giving the cards to everyone, we are letting our local communities share their appreciation of the commitment our veterans have made. This year we expect to distribute over 16,000 cards.
On Veterans Day, we will participate in four events happening in the Duluth area. We will support the Veterans Day parade in downtown Duluth by providing donuts, coffee and hot chocolate for our veterans who will be marching in the parade. We also have card-signing events going on at Bent Paddle Brewing and the College of St. Scholastica hockey game. Lastly, at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) hockey game, the UMD Greek Life Club will be supporting a card-signing table, and the UMD Athletic Department will recognize our Northern Minnesota Chapter Board Chair (and retired Colonel from the MN Air National Guard) Penny Dieryck, as well as Richard Krsiean, the veteran we met in Virginia, for their service to our nation.
If you are a veteran, please accept our sincerest thanks for your service to our country. If you would like to get involved with the work of Red Cross Service to Armed Forces, reach out to your local Red Cross chapter to find out how you can help.