Making a Difference for our Military Heroes

Stand Down for veterans, Virginia, MN, August 2016
Stand Down for veterans, Virginia, MN, August 2016

By Dan Williams, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota

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 Krsiean

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 and Wendy at the Stand Down

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.”

Richard and Wendy talking at the Stand Down

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.

UMD Greek Life Club, September 2016

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.

We’re ready to help military kids manage stress

reconnection-workshop-a-spot_cropThe American Red Cross has two new workshops that help children of military families to manage challenges that are specific to their lives. The workshops, Roger That! Communication Counts and 10-4: Confident Coping, teach essential life skills for military kids and teens to better manage stressful social situations.

“All kids face challenges,” says Diane Manwill, a behavioral health expert with the American Red Cross. “They are growing up and learning to navigate social situations. However, challenges faced by military kids may be compounded because military families move more frequently and family members may be more absent due to military deployments.”

Each of the workshops is composed of two modules with activities designed for children 8 to 12 and teens 12 to 18 years old. The Roger That! Communication Counts workshop focuses on the importance of developing quality interpersonal communication and listening skills. Operation 10-4: Confident Coping focuses on bolstering strengths present in older military children to help manage stressful situations. The new workshops are part of the Red Cross reconnection workshop series.

“My children have participated in these workshops and they make a difference,” says Kelsey Liverpool, co-founder and president of Kids Rank. “It helps because it gives children of military families a place where they can talk, where they feel safe, be with other people who understand what they are going through and learn how they might better adapt to their situation.”

Red Cross volunteers, who are licensed behavioral health professionals and trained to work with children, facilitate the workshops. All professionals have undergone extensive background checks as required by the Department of Defense for adults working with children. Additionally, a second adult is also available during these workshops for support and assistance to the groups.

“We were very proud to support the Red Cross in the development of this program over the past year along with many other subject matter experts in the field,” says Dr. Mary Keller with the Military Child Education Coalition. “We know that community-based initiatives, like this, make a positive difference for our military kids.”

For more information about this free and confidential program, go to

Celebrating Women’s History in the Red Cross: A Minnesota Girl Goes to Vietnam

Story and photos by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
Additional reporting by Lanet Hane/American Red Cross

Lois Hamilton served with the American Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) program in Korea after the war in 1965 and during the Vietnam War in 1967 and 1968. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
Lois Hamilton served with the American Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) program in Korea after the war in 1965 and during the Vietnam War in 1967 and 1968. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Lois Hamilton was a Red Cross caseworker at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital in 1967 when she decided to go to Vietnam at a hot time during the war. At the hospital, she saw “horrendous injuries,” but she also saw wounded warriors get well. “I loved my work,” she says over coffee and pastries at her home in Rochester, Minnesota. “It was my job to make the whole situation easier for them, to comfort them.”

By that time, and the time of her decision to go to Vietnam, she already had overseas experience. She’d left her hometown of Osseo, Minnesota, to serve with the Red Cross’s Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) program in Korea in 1965. She was 22 years old. She knew Vietnam would be different, tougher and more serious. Still, her Korea experience was key: “Had I not gone to Korea, I’d never have gone to Vietnam,” she says.

When she told some of the patients at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital about her plans “they thought it was the dumbest thing they’d ever heard.” Yet, they were supportive and gave her some advice: “keep your head down,” they said. And she did, for 12 months of service with the Red Cross SRAO program in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968.

During that time, Lois and the other SRAO women, all recent college graduates with adventurous spirits, carried program bags: duffels stuffed with quizzes, flashcards and other games for boosting morale and combatting boredom among American troops in South Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, Lois Hamilton (center) was among hundreds of young women who carried Red Cross SRAO program bags stuffed with quizzes, flashcards and other games they used to boost morale and combat boredom among American troops.
During the Vietnam War, Lois Hamilton (center) was among hundreds of young women who carried Red Cross SRAO program bags stuffed with quizzes, flashcards and other games they used to boost morale and combat boredom among American troops. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

From their base in Saigon, the “Red Cross girls” (also nicknamed “Donut Dollies”) traveled to army units around the country. They went by bus or helicopter. A few made small talk with the helicopter pilots. But unlike some of the other girls, Lois did not make friends with the pilots because their risk of being killed was so high. “I think it was a protection sort of thing.”

Lois never doubted she would make it home. Not even in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, a series of communist military attacks on Saigon. Mostly, the time was “scary for my family because mail wasn’t going in or out.” Still, Lois heard gunfire on her street. Even closing shutters was a danger.

Later, Lois and the other SRAO workers were transferred to the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division headquarters at Camp Enari in Pleiku. There, they sought cover in a bunker that was just for the Red Cross girls. “I worried about some of them,” says Lois, who recalls crying only one time when a shower blew up and there was a fire, and then no hot water. It was a little thing, really, but the little things added up.

Sometimes during their service, Lois and the others wore flak jackets. “You girls should not be here,” a soldier said. “But if you are, then you should wear flak jackets.” They also had fatigues, combat boots and, for a short time, a revolver that a captain at Camp Enari gave them for times when they had to jump in the bunker.

A page from the Sayonara (farewell) book the other Red Cross girls made for Lois Hamilton before she left Vietnam in 1968. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
A page from the Sayonara (farewell) book the Red Cross girls made for Lois Hamilton before she left Vietnam in 1968. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

But they were non-combatants. Most often Lois wore a dress, not a flak jacket. Her job was to bring a smile to a weary soldier’s face. “They had fun and I had fun, too,” she says. “Smiling was good.” For the most part, she felt like one of the guys. “The difference was that I was a civilian.”

In July 1968, her service was up and Lois did not extend. “I’m going home,” she said at the time to the others. “I was just ready to go home,” she says today.

Lois stayed with the Red Cross in various positions and retired decades later. She also became active in the Vietnamese refugee community in Rochester. “I felt I had a kinship because of Vietnam.” She went so far as to welcome three refugee children, with their own stories of survival and escape, into her home and later adopt them.

Reflecting on her Vietnam experience, Lois remembers her decision to go surprising her friends. “Lois would never do that,” some said. But she felt good about going. She would go again. “I’m the one who’s lucky.”

At its peak in 1969, 110 young women with the American Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas (SRAO) program reached an estimated 300,000 military members in Vietnam (source: Today, the Red Cross continues to provide emergency communications and other services to America’s armed forces. To learn more, click here.

House of Cards: The Clara Barton Connection

by Carrie Carlson-Guest

Like so many others, I am obsessed with House of Cards, the political drama starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Claire Underwood.  No plot spoilers here I promise, just some thoughts about the connection between Frank and Clara. Clara Barton that is. I freely admit to watching multiple episodes in one sitting, complete with popcorn and fuzzy pajamas. And honestly, the weather lately has been rather conducive to Netflix marathons.

Part of the show’s popularity may stem from the references to real life events, issues, people and places. One of the episodes my husband and I watched last night, included a Civil War re-enactment at the Battle of the Wilderness.  On hand to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle, Frank is approached by one of the re-enactors who suggests one of Frank’s ancestors fought and died in the battle, with thousands of others.

What does this have to do with Clara Barton? She was at the Battle of the Wilderness. Before the Red Cross was even a formal organization, Clara Barton brought medical supplies and nursed wounded soldiers on Civil War battlefields, including during the Wilderness Campaign.  She, theoretically, could have comforted Frank Underwood’s great-great-great-grandfather and connected him to his family after his death.

Clara’s work during and after the Civil War became the first mission of the American Red Cross  – caring for the wounded and displaced and their families. More than 150 years later, the Red Cross proudly continues our Service to Armed Forces, supporting military members and their families, connecting them in times of crisis and by their side wherever they are around the world.

Check out this video for a great mini-history lesson on Red Cross SAF programs and services.  Then, if you haven’t already, check out House of Cards, but don’t tell me what happens after episode five of the second season.

Our Fabulous “SAF FIVE”

In celebration of Veterans Day on November 11, 2013, the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region would like to recognize its Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteers and thank them for their service, both for the Armed Forces and the Red Cross. SAF volunteers provide vital information about Red Cross services to military members and their families prior to basic training and deployment. These services include emergency communications and financial assistance during active-duty and deployment.

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, the “SAF Five” include Jim Kinzie, Brent Jordahl, Bill Johnson, Jim McKinney, and Bill Kelvie. Each came to the Red Cross with different military service stories, but they had one thing in common: the desire to give back.

Jim Kinzie - archiveJim Kinzie served in the Army for 29 years. “I enjoyed my service.” He joined the Army in 1966 on active duty, went through Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training (AIT), and Officer Candidate School (OCS). Kinzie was commissioned in 1967 and served in the Air Defense Artillery at the Chicago-Milwaukee Defense Area until 1969. He then served the remaining 26 years in the Army Reserves at Fort Snelling. When asked about what brought him to volunteer for the Red Cross, Kinzie simply said, “Payback time.” and further explained that “The Red Cross was helpful in many situations that I was involved in with the military, so this is my opportunity to give back.”

Johnson, William 1-24-12Bill Johnson served in the Army as a nurse for nearly 24 years – five and a half years on active duty and 18 years in the Army Reserves. Bill primarily worked at the Letterman Army Medical Center in San Francisco, CA, on the mental health unit. At this time, after the Vietnam War, there were a lot of service members admitted for “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” and Bill spent a lot of his time exploring the diagnosis of PTSD. Bill reflected on this experience and said “it taught me to be patient.” After spending some time with the local Medical Reserve Corps, he was recommended to go to a Red Cross presentation where he saw the SAF team in action. Bill has now been an active member of SAF for two years and said, “My passion is now SAF, but I also work with Disaster Health Services and Disaster Mental Health.”

Brent - MEPSBrent Jordahl enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard Aviation during the Vietnam War era. He served for 6 years mostly as crew chief in helicopter maintenance, while stationed at Holman Field in St. Paul, MN. Thankfully the government did not activate the Guard during this time, so Brent was not deployed overseas to fight in the war. He started volunteering with the Red Cross in other areas long before his professional retirement, but afterwards he wanted to expand his volunteer service and was led to SAF.  Brent speaks highly of the Red Cross, saying that it’s “one of the most well respected and admirable organizations there are. There are so many different things the Red Cross does and I felt like I wanted to be a part of it.”

Kelvie, Bill Sept 2011Bill Kelvie served in the Army for almost 22 years. He went to Military Police School and was active for his first 3 years, and then served his remaining 18-19 years in the Army Reserves. During this time, Kelvie was stationed in Germany and worked at an airport in U.S. Customs. His volunteer service with the Red Cross began shortly after he heard of Holiday Mail for Heroes. Kelvie’s main goal in working with SAF is “to give back to those that are serving our country.” He said he “sympathizes with them” and wants to do as much as he can to help out.

Jim McKinney - archiveJim McKinney enlisted in his senior year of college and served in the Army from 1968-1970. He was stationed at the on duty meeting zone in the Korean Demilitarized Zone at Panmunjom for the United Nations joint security. McKinney originally came to volunteer for the Red Cross after the 35W Bridge collapse, and was later recruited into the SAF program. He recalled one of many standout moments during his time so far with SAF when three mothers thanked him for their sons’ safe return home. McKinney says, “The system really works. It felt very rewarding.”

Please celebrate the on-going achievements of all SAF volunteers, including those across our region in Duluth, Bemidji, Alexandria, and St. Cloud. Last year, the region’s SAF volunteers provided nearly 2,400 emergency communication services between military members and their families; and they gave more than 3,500 pre-basic training and pre-deployment briefings for military members across our Red Cross region.

Story by Kelly Lynch, Communications Intern for the American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. For more information on Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces click here. For more information about how to become a Red Cross volunteer click here

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