Some of our nation’s finest were recently honored at the first annual Red Cross Celebration of Service and Sacrifice
Story by Jill Mercado, American Red Cross • Photography by Mason Rankin, American Red Cross

They walked in one by one. Young. Old. Active duty. Veterans. Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard, Marines—about 30 in all. Wearing pressed uniforms and polished shoes, some of our nation’s finest smiled, shook hands and observed a conference room brightly decorated just for them. This was the scene on Friday morning, May 20, at the American Red Cross Greater Houston Area Chapter’s first annual Celebration of Service and Sacrifice.

Members of our Military listening during the opening prayer.

“Men and women in the Armed Forces commit themselves to the highest form of service,” said David Carpentier, Red Cross Service to The Armed Forces (SAF) Region Manager and Command Sergeant Major, U.S. Army, retired. “They want to belong to something greater than themselves; a brotherhood whose history dates back to America’s struggle for independence. Hosting this celebration today is just one way the Red Cross honors those who protect our freedom.”

Armed Forces Day has been celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May since 1950, when Harry Truman announced it by Presidential Proclamation as a means to “praise the work of the Military Services at home and across the seas.” He stated that our Military men and women are “vital to the security of the nation and to the establishment of a desirable peace.”

Kimberly Isola, Red Cross Service to Armed Forces specialist, performs traditional Mixing of the Grog.

The Red Cross Celebration of Service and Sacrifice honored local-area members of the Military with activities including remarks by Red Cross Regional CEO Steve Vetrano, a prayer by Army National Guard Chaplain C.H. Laing and a presentation on the History of Armed Forces Day delivered by Steven Russell, Red Cross SAF volunteer and Master Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, retired. There was also a non-alcoholic, ceremonial “Mixing of the Grog,” a tradition well known through all branches of the Military.

For more than 130 years, the Red Cross has helped Military members, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with and respond to the challenges of Military service. Emergency communications, training, support to wounded warriors and veterans, and access to community resources help an average of 150,000 military families and veterans annually.

For Carpentier, leading a team that carries out these services is a privilege. “Few people realize that today about three million men and women serve to protect and defend the freedoms of over 321,000,000 American citizens. They carry the torch of freedom that has been passed through the centuries from one generation to the next,” he said.  “Hosting our first Celebration of Service and Sacrifice is yet another way to honor them. We look forward to doing it again next year.”

Sergeant at Celebration Recounts Red Cross Aid during Houston Floods

Art Rodriguez Jr., Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, reached out to the Red Cross last month when torrential storms caused flooding in the Houston area. The wife and two young children of one of his soldiers—who was deployed in Iraq—lost everything in the floods. They were left isolated in a large city without nearby family to help them.

The Red Cross SAF team immediately assisted the soldier’s family by guiding them in how to receive much needed financial services, clothing and lodging from organizations including FEMA and partners like Catholic Charities and the American Legion. The Red Cross even worked with the soldier’s battalion so he could come home from the Middle East earlier than planned to be at his family’s side in the aftermath of the floods.

Rodriguez relayed his story at the May 20 Celebration of Service and Sacrifice, stating “We are grateful to have such a resource to connect our Military with their loved ones during family emergencies. We really appreciate the services the Red Cross provided to bring my comrade home to assist his family.”

Volunteers are critical to advancing the humanitarian mission of the American Red Cross. The Texas Gulf Coast Region SAF team would like to thank Red Cross volunteer Joyce Wagner for creating and implementing Celebration of Service and Sacrifice to honor our Military. Her dedication helped make the event a success! If you are interested in joining Joyce and being a Red Cross volunteer, please go to redcross.org/volunteer.