It was his last year of highs school and Steven Wheeler had decided that he did not want to end his education there but wanted to continue studying and obtain a degree. Steven looked at his dad at the dinner table and asked the hard question that he dare not ask, do they have enough money for him to go to college.
His dad was honest with him and told him that they had enough money to pay for two years of college, but after that he would have to figure things out. That is when Steven decided to pursue his associates degree and then see where life would take him.
As graduation from community college approached, Steven was left with another hard decision, how can he continue his education if he did not have the money to pay for it. Steven had heard about the GI Bill and in the summer of 1989, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard for four years. His intention was to return to college after he completed his four years in the military.
He was first stationed on a cutter in California with the primary mission of going to the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. The four years he expected to serve in the military turned into 27. Not only did the Coast Guard give him a career, but also a wife and a son. Steven met his wife while both were serving on a cutter in Alaska. She left the service after serving for four years and before they got married. Steven’s son was inspired by his mom and dad’s service and decided to join the Coast Guard as well to help and serve others.
While in the Coast Guard Steven was able to complete his bachelor’s degree online. He advanced up the enlisted ranks to a mid-grade. He was admitted to the officer candidate school and completed his training in 1994. His primary career field was search and rescue, maritime law enforcement and then got promoted on schedule up to the mid-officer rank of Commander.
“The pinnacle of my career,” Steven reminisced, “was when I was stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. I was in charge of search and rescue for the Hawaiian Islands when the First Family, at the time the Obamas, came to spend their Christmas vacation on the Island of Oahu. I had about 150 people working for me, making sure the Obamas could enjoy a nice, safe break over Christmas vacation and all the while I was still doing search and rescue and serving civilians,” said Steven.
After he retired, Steven and his wife bought an RV and traveled around the country. Once they settled down, they bought a house in the Olympia, Washington area and found out about the Red Cross. He joined as a volunteer doing disaster service work. The first five months he was in the organization he deployed five times to various natural disasters including Hurricane Ian, the Houston Tornadoes, and three natural disasters in his home state of Washington.
“Someone recommended that I apply for the Service to the Armed Forces job and when I saw that it was a fit for me, I applied and was hired on May 1st,” said Steven.
Steven is now the manager for the Service Armed Forces Texas Gulf coast Region, he is one of two employees who is serving veterans in Corpus Christy and across the region. Serving people was one of the big reasons he joined the Coast Guard he wanted to make sure he always gave back and was able to help those in need.
“Being in Service to the Armed Forces with the American Red Cross, we’re obviously a humanitarian organization, helping people, using our volunteer resources and donor contributions to change people’s lives that are impacted by some type of disaster or emergency,” said Steven.
As a career Coast Guard officer Steven had a very similar mindset.
“The Coast Guard is a humanitarian organization as well as being search and rescue, law enforcement and armed force. One of its primary goals is to help people who are suffering. I did that my whole career and now with the American Red Cross I have an opportunity to continue to do that in a civilian role with a great organization that has a real impact on people’s lives,” said Steven.
When asked about how he views his staff role when compared to when he first joined as a volunteer, Steven said, “it’s a great honor to be accepted as a volunteer. Now as a staff member, I have a much broader level of impact. There are 32 volunteers here in Corpus Christi. I can leverage all that work force to do greater things and I feel satisfied that I’m doing the most I can personally do for the organization and for our clients.”
Steven shared some interesting facts about the Red Cross involving the armed forces. In 1900, Congress chartered the Red Cross to be the principal emergency communications body for the armed forces. The Red Cross is the conduit to get a hold of a serviceman posted overseas. The Red Cross also provides a 24/7 crisis help line for active military or veterans who may be experiencing financial difficulties, food insecurity and a host of critical care situations. They manage a databank of resources at the regional and national level.
“Many military and retired military personnel don’t realize the wealth of resources available to them,” said Steven.
He added that among these is access to a mental health program that helps veterans find resources they need and have earned. One of Steven’s principal jobs is to be in contact with the local VA hospital. He can help any veteran in his region that is having health problems get in touch with the hospital.
When asked what he would say to someone considering volunteering at the Red Cross, Steve said, “I would tell them they have a once in a lifetime opportunity to impact other’s lives why not take it.”
The Red Cross helps members of the military, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to, the challenges of military service. If you would like more information please visit our website, https://rb.gy/o6q4r .
Story By: Francisco Philibert