A Special Thank You to Our Veterans!

American Red Cross disaster volunteers, Al Noft and Dan Coto, prepare for Veteran’s Day in Columbia, S.C.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” -John Fitzgerald Kennedy

 The Red Cross is home to many quiet heroes, but this week we spotlight two Veterans of the Vietnam Era: Al Nooft and Dan Coto.  Each man has his own story, but each share a need to pay it forward.  Al says he came to the Red Cross “to return the favor for people who are not so lucky.  Dan says he sees his work at the Red Cross as an extension of his service to his country in the active Army and as a Volunteer Firefighter/EMT. 

Al Nooft says he will never forget the day that he got his letter from the Draft Board.  It was February 15, 1969.  He spent the next 30 years serving, first in the active Army, then the Army National Guard and the Army Reserves.  He was lucky.  His active duty time was spent at Fort Ord in California.  Al began as a private and went on to Officer Candidate School and retired as a Major.

Al came to the Red Cross three years ago.  He had retired and wanted to give back to the community for the good life he has enjoyed.  Soon after Al began volunteering, his wife became ill and he stepped back for a time to take care of her.  After his wife‘s death, he returned to the Red Cross, this time to have something to do to fill the time.  He volunteers as many hours as most of us spend at our full time jobs.

Al wanted to serve people across the county.  He got his wish.   He has deployed three times this year: to the North Dakota and Memphis floods and in New Jersey after Hurricane Irene. He is trained in sheltering and has served as an associate, a supervisor and as a manager.

Dan Coto was born and raised in New York City.  He entered the Army in 1966.  He was stationed in the Southern Region of Vietnam, between Saigon and Tin Ninh as a tank commander.  He served in the Tet Offensive.   After serving his country in war, he went back to New York City and got his degree from City College, going to night school to become an accountant.  Over the next years he served as a Volunteer Firefighter and EMT in New York and in Florida.  Eight months ago he came to the Red Cross in Columbia to offer his services.  He says he saw the earthquake in Haiti and the Tsunami in Japan and became excited about the mission of the Red Cross.  He was quickly trained and put to work.  He serves as a government liaison and as the regional training lead.  He also serves on the Disaster Action Team (DAT) as a DAT Captain.

Coto says, “It’s in my gut to be a volunteer.  It started with the fire department and never went away.”  He finds it very rewarding to give “the teddy bear” to a child who has just lost everything.

Dan deployed to Bingham, New York for five weeks after Hurricane Irene.  He says he loves using his brain again and enjoys the staff and other volunteers.  He is at the Red Cross office in Columbia between 35 to 40 hours each week.

The theme of service is ingrained in both these men.  Both of them say their time serving in the armed services altered their views of responsibility and leadership. 

So today, when you see a Veteran, thank him or her for their service.  You might just be talking to a Red Cross Volunteer, too!

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