Share Holiday Cheer!

The Holiday Mail for Heroes program is an avenue for people to share their appreciation of those who have served our country. The goal is to give service members and Veterans a little holiday cheer by presenting them with letters and cards of thanks.

This year, we are collecting hand-made or store bought cards. Plus, we have JUMBO cards around the state and at special events for residents to sign.  We kicked-off the campaign at the state Capitol.  Cards received by December 11th will be sorted and then presented at common Wisconsin venues, military installations, VA Hospitals, State Veteran Homes and more.

IMG_2134Get in the holiday spirit and send us your best cards! We’ll do the rest!  Here are few guidelines to get you going:

What is the Holiday Mail for Heroes Program? Since 2006, the American Red Cross has received and distributed nearly 10 million holiday cards for members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Veterans. The Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program enables Americans to “Give Something That Means Something” this holiday season by signing and sending cards of thanks, encouragement and holiday cheer to members of our U.S. Armed Forces and Veterans.

I don’t know anyone in the military; how do I participate? You don’t need to know anyone in the military. Red Cross workers will distribute signed cards from the community to members of the military and Veterans right here in Wisconsin.

Cards are not addressed to anyone specific, so who gets these cards? We will distribute cards to service members and Veterans throughout Wisconsin. Cards will be handed to service members and Veterans, or displayed at common venues in military installations and hospitals.

Can I drop cards off at my local Red Cross office? Yes, your created cards can be dropped off by December 11th at your local Red Cross office or even better mail them to: American Red Cross, 4860 Sheboygan Avenue, Madison, WI 53705

Will my card be distributed to our troops overseas? Our National office has shipped cards to military bases around the globe so your cards will make the holiday brighter throughout Wisconsin.

What is the goal for the 2015 Holiday Mail for Heroes Program? The goal is to share season’s greeting and holiday cheer to the members of our Armed Forces and Veterans, creating millions of smiles.

Are there other restrictions and guidelines for cards? In order to make cards as meaningful as possible to a wide audience, choose or create  “Happy Holiday” cards and use generic titles such as “Dear Service Member, or Veteran” when writing cards.  Cards should not contain:

  • Glitter that could aggravate existing health issues.
  • Enclosures such as money calling cards, photos, or other gifts.
  • Complete mailing address.  (City and State are okay)
  • Email addresses.

Can I include money in the cards? Please do not enclose money with the holiday cards. If you wish to provide financial support for Red Cross services to the military, please donate online.

How can I find out more information about the Holiday Mail program?

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Welcome Vet Corp Intern, Michelle Meuer!

John Kost, Service to the Armed Forces State Manager

Michelle MWe are excited to announce Red Cross Wisconsin has added to its Service to the Armed Forces team, Vet Corp Intern, Michelle Meuer

“I am 29. I was in the National Guard for nine years as a member of the 1157th Transportation Company out of Oshkosh. I deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and performed convoy security. I have been married for 6 years and met my husband in Iraq. Our first date was at pizza hut at one of the FOB’s (forward operating base)! I was a Medical Assistant for four years and have returned to UW Oshkosh to receive my Bachelors in Nursing.

Michelle joins us from AmeriCorps’ Vet Corps program at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. During her time in the Guard she earned the rank of Sergeant and served on two overseas deployments, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, conducting convoy and convoy security missions.

She is Medical Assistant and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) trained and currently in her second year at UW-Oshkosh pursuing admission to its College of Nursing.

Her focus in Service to the Armed Forces is to partner with State of Wisconsin Veteran Homes at King (Waupaca County) and Union Grove (Milwaukee County) to grow our staff of volunteers and participation in programs that assist veterans.

Welcome Michelle to the American Red Cross!

 

Bridging the Generation Gap Through Volunteering

By Kaitlyn Schmitt, UW-Oshkosh Red Cross Club Member and Service to Armed Forces Chair

11045509_409289322566098_3802830992405436313_nOn Sunday, March 8th, members from the UWO American Red Cross Club visited King Veterans Home and assisted with Bingo with the veterans. This was the club’s third time volunteering with our heroes at King. We assisted the veterans to their seats, and once we heard someone yell “Bingo,” we checked their cards and handed out prize quarters. When the veterans entered the room and saw us, they got so excited to see a young group of caring and dedicated women who want to make an impact in the lives of our nation’s true heroes.

UWO American Red Cross Club member, Courtney Gussert stated: “It was a great time at King Veterans Home as many of the veterans along with the women instantly had a smile on their faces when they entered the bingo room and saw us.  There was tension in the air during bingo as you could tell how competitive some of the veterans got to win a quarter.  It was eye-opening to see the beautiful location on the water along with the high-tech underground transportation system.  Volunteering here was a fun experience which I hope UWO American Red Cross Club decides to do again!” Ali Sommerfeldt also noticed the smiles of the veterans and stated: “There were many times when I would catch a resident’s eye while we were playing bingo and they would just beam over at me. It is the best feeling knowing that you can make a difference in someone’s day just by spending a few hours with them.”

Rachael Carlson recounted: “I thought that it was an amazing experience to be with a generation we’ve heard so much about. In school, we learn what these people have been through. But it’s not every day that you get the chance to socialize with them. This experience really showed me how happy people can get from little things like bingo and quarters, and reminded me that it’s the little things in life that matter.”

Getting to talk with the veterans was very eye-opening and it was amazing to put a smile on these incredible people’s faces. I feel extremely blessed to have been given this opportunity to spend time with such an amazing group of individuals – those who selflessly served our country for the freedom that we have today and who have given so much for others. It is an incredible feeling spreading hope and joy to the veterans and making a positive impact in their lives. Seeing the excitement and gratitude on their faces makes what I do all worthwhile. Club member, Brooke Trzebiatowski, also enjoyed the experience and exclaimed: “Going to the veteran’s home was a lot of fun! I really enjoyed how excited all of the residents got because we were there to help, and it was really cool to see the place! I would love to go again! They were a blast to be around!”

These veterans, who have served our country, make us honored to serve them. Nicole Knudtson expressed: “I loved helping out with bingo today! The veterans all seemed to have a good time and their excitement when they got bingo made my day. Several veterans thanked us for our service at the end, and I wish I would have thanked them all for theirs. We did just one simple task, but they did so much for us!”

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Volunteering at King was a very rewarding experience and I look forward to more opportunities volunteering with these brave men and women again in the future. It is always heartwarming to see the impact that I have on individuals – especially those that helped give us our freedom. This month is Red Cross month, and I feel absolutely honored to be a part of the American Red Cross commitment to providing services to those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Getting involved with the American Red Cross was the best decision that I have ever made, and I am blessed to be able to do so much for Services to the Armed Forces and see the immeasurable power of volunteering positively impact our American heroes.

Dying Mother Saves Son from Death

Written by Barbara Behling, Communications Director

In honor of the many men and women who have served our country and continue to serve, we thank you today and everyday for your service. 

VeteransDay

Even from a deathbed, a mother can save a child. This was the case for Neil Starke, serving in the US Coast Guard during WWII. Thanks to the American Red Cross Services to Armed Forces program he was able to share her last breaths, a visit which also saved his own life.

In the heart of WWII, the USS El Paso was situated at 114° North & 120° East. From these decks, air & sea rescues off the Philippines coasts were conducted. It was in the heart of the fighting, he received a cablegram from the Red Cross which explained his father had fallen while riding a bus, with trauma to his head, he was sent to a mental institution. Meanwhile, in another hospital, his dying mother yearned to see her son one last time. His superior officers granted permission for a 38-day leave of absence. It was this stroke of timing that saved his life.

SONY DSCNeil was taken off one ship, sailed to land on another and then boarded a military plane to fly back to the states. Altogether, the journey took two weeks. While at his mother’s bedside, he shared stories, a smile and the unmistakable touch of a mother’s hand until her passing.  Even today, when sharing his story, he remains visibly shaken.

Now with tears in his eyes, it was time to return to duty. “It was the first time I heard my father’s voice falter when saying good-bye.” Neil explains. By military plane, he flew back to the base and was ready to rejoin his ship. He waited a week. Then two, he was eager to join his team. “It was ironic and a blessing, I was pulled off that ship as it was declared lost in the Yellow Sea typhoon.  While I never saw any man I served with again; the vessel was found two-weeks later. The boilers had been destroyed so it must have been tossing around like a toy in a washing machine,” Neil concluded.

A short-time thereafter, an international peace agreement was signed. The war was over. “Until that cable gram, I had been mad at the Red Cross about $.15 lemonade that tasted awful.  Then I learned the greater meaning of their work. It allowed me to be with my mother in those final days and it also saved my life.”

The Service to the Armed Forces division of the American Red Cross helps our military members and their families across the world with one primary function being Emergency Communications. If family needs to get in touch with a service member while they are on active duty, they can call the Red Cross Emergency Communication line for the military at 1-877-272-7337. The Red Cross will get family in touch, and provide vital verification services so that commanding officers can make informed decisions about emergency leave. The Red Cross is the only organization entrusted with this responsibility because of our longstanding history with the military, as well as our Fundamental Principles of Neutrality and Impartiality.

‘Lean on Me’

By Barbara Behling, Communications Officer, American Red Cross  

Major General Dunbar shares his appreciation with Red Cross volunteers. We provided beverage, tissues and even diapers to attendees.

Major General Dunbar shares his appreciation with Red Cross volunteers. We provided beverage, tissues and even diapers to attendees.

April 2, 2014 –  It was an honor to represent the American Red Cross at the Troop Send-off ceremony for the Wisconsin Army National Guard – 121st Field Artillery Alpha Battery Unit .  For 79 brave men it was their next step before hitting the ground at Fort Bliss and then shipping off to Afghanistan.

The air inside the 128th Air National Guard Refueling Wing was still. The faces of grandparents were stoic as their grandsons “go off to war” as one gentlemen shared with me. “I’m now back to changing diapers to help the family.”  Many times the wives of soldiers rocked one baby on their chest while holding their spouse tight while another child hung onto their legs.

The ceremony was poignant with a military band playing and the dignitaries standing in front of the largest American flag I have ever witnessed.  Major General Dunbar spoke from the heart, “It’s a bittersweet day to send soldiers into combat zones for a year. What happens at home continues. Take the pride in your eyes, the confidence in each other and lean on each other”

The American Red Cross is proud to support our active duty members and their families around the clock – around the globe. Each member of this unit has received special  briefings on what to do and who to call in case of emergencies. The American Red Cross will answer the call.

Any military member and their family can “lean on us”  by contacting their local Red Cross office or by calling 877-272-7337 for support.

“Will My Children Remember Me?”

In honor of Memorial Day, we want to share with you a touching story and video about how a simple doll can help children cope with deployment of their mom or dad.

Story By:  Mar Tobiason, Meghan Spreer & Barbara Behling

American Red Cross volunteer Mar Tobiason presents Hug-A-Hero dolls to the Blankenship family.  Lillie (3 ½) and Hallie (2) along with their mother Katherine Blankenship were delighted with tears of joy.

American Red Cross volunteer Mar Tobiason presents Hug-A-Hero dolls to the Blankenship family. Lillie (3 ½) and Hallie (2) along with their mother Katherine Blankenship were delighted with tears of joy. Photos credit: Virginia Hart, American Red Cross Volunteer.

“Will my children remember me?”

That’s just one of the concerns military fathers have as they leave their young children for extended periods of time. Thanks to a partnership with the American Red Cross, children of the deployed 5th Marines Divisions, have a resounding “yes” to this question.

After two California wildfire evacuations for Camp Pendleton in California, the flames were extinguished and the families returned home to a very special gift from the Red Cross.  Bobby Ellison-Peck, Services to Armed Forces program manager, coordinates the Hug-A-Hero program with the support of military Family Readiness Coordinators. A full-length photograph is taken of each Mom or Dad and reproduced on a custom-made doll. The foot-high stuffed dolls also have words of encouragement such as “I Love You!” Tears of joy ran down the cheeks of moms after their child received the dolls. Many of the kids squealed with delight, “Daddy! Daddy!”

“It’s not just for the kids, it’s also for ‘me’” stated Melissa Rooks, who is also the Family Resilience Coordinator. “To be honest, I give him a squeeze and kiss too.” Melissa’s son Zachary received a Hug-A-Hero Doll five-years ago.  He still keeps it close to him day and night. “Through facial recognition, he remains physically and emotionally attached. It’s so much more powerful than a doll,” concludes Melissa.

The program is spearheaded by the Red Cross with funding from a Walmart grant. This is one program to help families and military members before, during and after deployments. To learn more about our support of military members and Veterans, please visit www.redcross.org/SAF

 

Congratulations Chuck Patzer!

Chuck Patzer 2014

Chuck Patzer, left, with Adrianne Benson at the VA Home at King, volunteer appreciation lunch.

By Terri Osterberg, Service to Armed Forces, Public Relations Volunteer

Chuck Patzer, has accepted a new volunteer position as the American Red Cross Representative at The Wisconsin Veterans Home at King.  In this role, he will provide volunteer activity leadership between the American Red Cross and the VA Home at King. Being a U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran himself, he is bringing his knowledge of military issues and passion for helping others together in this new exciting role!  He is also a Disaster Action Team member in the Green Lake, Marquette, Waushara and Waupaca county area and supports the Heroes Musicales event in Wild Rose.

Chuck has been actively volunteering at the VA Home at King  for the past eight years.  He has been visiting with members and providing transport to medical appointments for those in need.

He will now be expanding his duties to include recruiting new volunteers to represent the Red Cross and finding the appropriate placement for these volunteers at the VA Home at King.  Chuck will also be representing Red Cross on the facilities Recreation Committee.  This committee is comprised of a number of Veteran Service Groups who meet regularly with the management of the facility to plan activities, address unmet needs and discuss changes and problems the facility is having.

Chuck stated, “Although there are many volunteers from different organizations already in place, there is always a need for more, and Red Cross is a good fit here.”

On Sunday, May 18, The Wisconsin Veterans Home at King is having an Open House from 10am – 3pm.  Red Cross will have a resource booth there, and Chuck hopes to be able to meet and recruit possible volunteers for upcoming help at the Home.

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Our Silent Auction Team Heroes for the 7th Annual Musicales event. (l-r) Chuck and Josephine Patzer, Beth Osicka, Carole Cochrane and Barry Osicka.

Support for Veterans, military members and their families is a year-round program. The Service to Armed Forces team partners with the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain, Michigan, the Wisconsin Veterans Home at Union Grove and the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee. They also support troop send-offs & returns, the Holiday Mail for Heroes program along with offering several courses specifically for military members. The Emergency Communication program provides ‘local’ support for families with loved one serving around the globe during times of emergencies.

To learn more visit redcross.org/SAF.  For volunteer opportunities please contact John Kost, Director Service to the Armed Forces, 920-733-4481, john.kost@redcross.org.