By Ashley Peterson-DeLuca
Just 10 miles south of downtown Omaha is the host base for the largest wing of the United States Air Force. Offutt Air Force Base is home to the 55th Wing, as well as the U.S. Strategic Command Headquarters, representatives from all five branches of the military, and the Ehrling Bergquist Clinic with two pharmacies that serve active duty, retired and military dependents in the region.
With 45,000 individuals on the U.S. military's health care program in the greater Omaha area, these pharmacies are the busiest in the city. Red Cross volunteers help the clinic process the huge volume of prescriptions, working in synch with the medical staff.
Currently, all the Red Cross volunteers associated with the base are retired or part of a military family. Gary Bledsoe, a Red Cross volunteer coordinator at the Ehrling Bergquist Clinic, helps match volunteers with the clinic’s needs, monitors assignments, and processes new volunteers. Bledsoe was the 55th Wing Inspector General at the
Cindy Belew passes out medications at Offutt Air Force Base.
base and then was also part of the Civil Service during his career.
“After spending 29 plus years on active duty, I didn’t want to leave. If I could still be wearing the uniform, I would. This is one way to still be here,” says Bledsoe. “I think for many of us, especially for folks who spent many years serving their country, we volunteer because we have the basic need to serve.”
Not only are the clinic’s Red Cross volunteers determined to serve, but they are also problem solvers. When the pharmacy lines and wait time get long, up to 30 people, it drives interest in volunteering.
“We’ve had people waiting in line at the pharmacy say, ‘I can do something to help' and reach out to volunteer with us,” says Ken Noltie, the Red Cross Military Hospital Clinic Lead and retired Navy.
COVID-19 has caused an increase in the need for medications, growing the need for volunteers in the pharmacy and clinic too.
“As we reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Red Cross played a critical role in our workforce at Ehrling Bergquist Clinic, especially within the pharmacy. Their dedication and hard work supporting daily pharmacy operations aid in keeping our warfighters ready to complete their mission” says Alyssa Carter, Airman First Class. “The life of being a pharmacy team member at Offutt Air Force Base has always been busy and hectic. Adding a global pandemic makes it so much more complicated and exciting.”
The Air Force is very appreciative of the support that the volunteers have provided in difficult circumstances.
“Fortunately, when operations permitted, our Red Cross volunteers were always there. This amazing group of fourteen volunteers are some of the best that I have ever seen. They have always stepped up to give their time and energy while dealing with their personal struggles during the pandemic. I can honestly say that with their willingness to help us, we have been able to accomplish twice as much as we would have without them. The countless hours – 1,576 year-to-date – that they have donated to help our mission is amazing and truly humbling. They have given the pharmacy a devoted amount of love and kindness,” says Carter.
Bledsoe adds that you don’t need to give thousands of hours to volunteer with their team: “The clinic has open arms. They will take volunteers who only have an hour or even just 30 minutes if you’re willing to come in to help. There’s no minimum.”
In addition to serving the armed force’s medical needs, volunteers also help members of the military, veterans, and their families manage the challenges of military service. Ken helps by making the base feel like home.
“If anyone at the clinic needs something that the Air Force doesn’t buy, we do it. I work with the Red Cross to buy candy for Halloween and Easter, swaddling blankets for new babies, walkers for the physical therapy department, furniture for a new lactation room, white noise machines for exam rooms and pill splitters for the patients – things like that,” says Noltie.
To find ways to support military and veteran families in your community, sign up to become a Red Cross volunteer.