The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
In January of 2012, David Compton became a new volunteer with the American Red Cross of the Mid-South. He quickly found his niche in the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) function. It was a natural position for him: David is a military retiree with 21 years of active-duty service.
“When I came back from Viet Nam in 1968, America as a whole was not very receptive to the armed services,” recalls David. “It’s good to be part of an organization such as the Red Cross that is very supportive towards members of our military.”
David soon became the Volunteer Lead for the SAF activities at the Mid-South Chapter. Over the years he has maintained information provided by the Military Entrance Processing Station in Memphis in the SAF database on new military recruits. He has been dedicated to making sure that all new recruits and their families are fully informed of the benefits available to them through the Red Cross, including emergency communication services. His volunteer work has involved presentations at pre-deployment sessions and the reintegration program that is required of all returning military units. He has also made himself available to present programs to local groups on the Red Cross SAF activities.
Recently a directive was issued by the Red Cross national SAF office that a phone call was to be made to the emergency contact person provided by every new enlistee in the armed forces. The purpose of the call is to verify contact information and make sure that they know about the emergency communication services available through the Red Cross.
“Thinking of the enormous number of calls that would have to be made nationwide, I was not so sure of this,” said David. “Then I began making the calls. I vividly recall one woman’s response. Her daughter had just enlisted in the military. As I began to explain that the Red Cross is here to help in case a situation arises in which she needs to be in emergency contact with her daughter, I could literally feel through the phone her sigh of relief. It was as if she realized that she had not been totally disconnected from her loved one, and that there was always a way to be in contact if there was a need. That call convinced me of the importance of the new initiative,” David concluded.
David’s other major SAF activity is heading up the Mid-South Chapter’s “Holiday Mail for Heroes” program, which distributes handmade holiday cards to military service members, veterans, and local fire and police personnel during the Christmas Holidays. Over his five years as a Red Cross volunteer David’s efforts have resulted in the production and distribution of approximately 125,000-holiday cards. The process of producing the cards begins every April with the Boy Scouts when they make a visit to Memphis’s Graceland and continues throughout the year with the help of volunteers and community groups from all ten of the counties serviced by the Mid-South Red Cross.
“The local community groups and volunteers who make the cards consistently express thanks for allowing them to extend their appreciation to our military and first responder heroes. Those who receive the cards, while often surprised, are often touched and express heartfelt thanks, sometimes with a special memory of a card received while onboard a ship or other military assignment,” said David when asked what kept him going and enthused about the program.
As a result of David’s hard work and accomplishments in building the SAF programs in the Mid-South, it was recognized earlier this year when funding became available that the Mid-South Red Cross is where it made sense to locate a new SAF staff person. So, Patrick Jones recently joined Red Cross staff and David as a part-time SAF Specialist.
“I’ve literally worked myself out of a job,” said David who will continue primarily with the Holiday Cards for Heroes program through the end of this year and possibly beyond.
David is also a DAT (Disaster Action Team) Captain for the Mid-South Chapter. In the past, he has served as the primary go-to person every Monday for local emergencies in which families are displaced from their homes. On average, the Mid-South Chapter responds to between two to three such calls a day, usually due to home fires, where it provides for the immediate needs of displaced residents. This typically involves short-term housing, financial support to replace essential clothing, food, and medical supplies, and emotional support. David is no longer the on-call person every Monday, but he is available when needed to support large-scale emergencies.
Over the years, numerous volunteers, many recruited by David, have generously contributed their time and talents to assist with both the SAF and DAT functions. “Both the full-time staff and volunteers at the chapter are outstanding”, said David. “They are dedicated to doing what they can to help others….Come and give it a try and see what works for you,” is David’s message to anyone looking for a meaningful volunteer activity.
David served as a chaplain during his 21 years of active duty in the Army. In addition to one-on-one counseling, which is one of the primary roles of a military chaplain, he received extensive training in group dynamics and did a great deal of leadership training. During his service, David and his family made more than 20 moves as he served chaplaincy functions on military bases all across the United States, as well as stints in Vietnam and Europe. David retired from the military with the rank of Colonel and moved to Memphis to assume a position at Methodist Health Care as Deputy Director of Training and Development. Later he worked at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as Head of Training and Organizational Development.
David grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and attended college at Tennessee Tech University where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and was President of the Wesley Foundation, the United Methodist Campus Ministry. He continued his education at Emory University School of Theology where he received the Master of Divinity Degree. During his military service, David continued his studies at the graduate level eventually receiving a Masters Degree in Religious Education and a third Masters Degree in Management Technology.
David and his wife of 58 years have two children and three grandchildren. Their son, a novelist with three books to his credit, lives in Ireland and has just graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, with a theology degree. He will soon be ordained in the Episcopal Church and take up duties as clergy in Kilkenny, Ireland. Their daughter lives closer by in Germantown, Tennessee. She is a first-grade teacher in Collierville.
“It has been such a pleasure working with the staff and volunteers here at the Mid-South Red Cross. They all seem to have a commitment to helping others deeply embedded in their DNA,” David concluded.
Story and photo credit: Bob Wallace/American Red Cross