Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is showing its support for the American Red Cross by assisting Afghan evacuees in the United States and abroad.
"It's just about helping people," said WWP International Alumni Manager Kristy Hogan, whose team has been working with the Red Cross in Germany to assist thousands of Afghan evacuees.
It's a sentiment shared by volunteers from WWP and the Red Cross.
Following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in August, the U.S. began preparations to assist Afghan citizens who were evacuated from the country due to safety concerns.
According to the International Rescue Committee, at least 263,000 Afghan civilians were affiliated with the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and tens of thousands were eligible for special immigrant visas because of their work alongside our military.
"The U.S. military immediately reached out to the American Red Cross to help in this effort, because we're a humanitarian leader, we have the largest volunteer base in the world, and additionally, they have us as a first stop for evacuees to receive relief items when they get off the plane because they recognize the universal symbol of the Red Cross," said Emily Osment, global spokesperson for the American Red Cross.
Because of their longstanding relationship, the Red Cross reached out to WWP seeking volunteers to assist with the humanitarian efforts at several U.S. military bases and at Ramstein Air Base and Rhine Ordnance Barracks (ROB) in Germany.
Efforts in the U.S.
Amid the Afghanistan pullout, thousands of Afghan evacuees were relocated to military installations in the U.S., including Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. The American Red Cross, which provided for the volunteers’ expenses, made use of its close connection with WWP to access veterans who might be interested in bringing their unique and insightful perspective to the mission.
WWP tapped into its Warriors to Work® program to find volunteers for the stateside operation. Initially, WWP sought out volunteers who had served in Afghanistan, but eventually opened it up to other post-9/11 warriors in the program, said WWP Financial Wellness Vice President Tom Kastner.
Warrior Robert Neuterman answered the call.
Robert had recently moved from Florida to Colorado and thought the timing was perfect. He also served in Afghanistan and felt particularly compelled to assist in the mission.
"A lot of the guys over there assisted us at one time," he said. "I just really wanted to help."
After signing up to volunteer and completing the Red Cross' vetting process, Robert traveled to Fort Bliss, and immediately began making an impact.
As thousands of Afghan evacuees poured into the base needing supplies and aid, Robert's military background in logistics kicked in. Robert said the initial process for delivering supplies wasn't the most efficient, so he worked with organizers from the Red Cross to streamline the process. He immediately took on a leadership role as he, along with a Red Cross team leader and other volunteers, greatly increased the delivery of "comfort kits" to evacuees in just a couple of days.
"The team I worked with was incredible," Robert said.
Aside from his connection to Afghanistan through his service, the mission really hit home for the father of four upon seeing the number of children who entered the base, scared and far from home.
“My No. 1 priority is my family's safety, and there were so many kids there," said Robert, who was able to spend some of his minimal free time kicking around donated soccer balls with the young visitors.
More than 200 WWP registered warriors have shown an interest in volunteering in the U.S. efforts.
"Concurrent with leaving Afghanistan and the 20th anniversary of 9/11, this, I think, is a way to demonstrate some goodwill and to give warriors the opportunity to provide energy and efforts to a good cause," Tom said.
For Robert, the trip to Fort Bliss was something he'll treasure.
"It was a very humbling experience," he said. "I'm blessed at my home, so being able to try and help them take those next steps in the next stage of their life, it was very rewarding."
Efforts in Germany
On the other side of the Atlantic, Kristy and the WWP team quickly got to work helping the Red Cross and the military in its mission to assist Afghan evacuees in Germany. The team is used to responding quickly to meet needs since it supports service members who are medically evacuated from deployed locations.
"The first couple of days was mostly our team just filling in wherever we needed to," said Kristy, who assisted in handing out water and food to the evacuees — or travelers as they're called at Ramstein — who waited long hours at the processing center after arriving. "They were tired; they were hungry; they were scared."
The WWP team in Germany, which also included Andrea Defibaugh and Layla Martinez, worked eight-to-12-hour days alongside Red Cross volunteers handing out food, water, hygiene kits, and baby supplies like diapers and milk. The team even purchased much-needed supplies and worked with active-duty service men and women to make the travelers feel at home as much as possible.
"This entire community sprang into action," Kristy said. "They had it so well-organized, and they had so many volunteers who just offered up their time and donations."
The needs were great as many travelers arrived with just the clothes on their backs, said Defibaugh, who helped assist them at Ramstein and ROB. She said she was struck by the realization that people left behind everything and the gravity of the operation.
“It was an honor to be part of a team that so quickly responded to that crisis and provided support for such a meaningful and impactful mission,” Andrea said. “Everyone came together so quickly with such energy and focus to provide what was necessary, and it was amazing to see all the different pieces coming together to help.”
The mission is ongoing, and the team is continuing to work with the Red Cross and the U.S. military to assist the more than 6,000 remaining travelers in temporary living areas on the base.
"It was about helping each other and coming together as a community to support this incredible mission," Kristy said.
A Perfect Pairing
WWP and the Red Cross are no strangers to working together. The two nonprofits may have different missions overall, but both boast dedicated volunteers and the desire to help when needed.
"We depend on volunteers to carry out this mission," Emily said. "What I saw, in particular overseas, was that a lot of military spouses and even Afghanistan war veterans raised their hand [to volunteer]. And they specifically shared with me they felt very attached to being a part of this mission. They really wanted to sign up because they knew the American Red Cross was working directly with evacuees. So, they wanted to have that face-to-face contact, and they felt very strongly about being the ones to support [the evacuees] as they came in and welcome them during this time of uncertainty."
Tom said WWP's role in assisting the Afghan evacuees was mainly to support the Red Cross and its humanitarian aid mission.
"This is a historic event in our time, and to be able to partner alongside Wounded Warrior Project, it doubles that impact," Emily said. "It allows us to really provide those services to people in a real-time emergency — to people who need it immediately."
Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.570.7910
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.