Tag Archives: Services to the Armed Forces

Veterans Day 2022: Recognizing Red Crossers who serve after their military service

A veteran’s transition to civilian life can be tough and sometimes it becomes hard to find a purpose in serving after leaving the U.S. military. But for many veterans, volunteering and responding to community needs is a way to share comradery and apply their unique skills and talents to the needs of their local neighborhood.

On this Veterans Day, we’d like to recognize all the Red Crossers who continue their service after service across the Northern California Coastal Region.  

We are honored to have all of them on our team – across counties and lines of service, and we proudly present some of their unique stories:

Daniella Zapata
Regional Business Operations Coordinator

Photo courtesy of Daniela Zapata

At 17 years old, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps to serve our country. It was my first experience doing something for the greater good and it taught me to think beyond myself and to look out for those around me. On my first day of bootcamp, I was introduced to the Red Cross and its services to our armed forces. A Red Cross card was handed to me to fill out with all the contact information for my unit. This tool would be used by my family if they needed to contact me. The Red Cross would quickly pass on information in case of emergency. Military training was intense, but I had the comfort of knowing that my family could find me if needed.

While in the fleet, I had the pleasure of working as an embark and logistics specialist where I learned valuable skills that continued to be of use after my military service – discipline, hard work and the importance of integrity.

In 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit our nation and I felt an overwhelming need to help. The news showed immense devastation and volunteers from the Red Cross were already on-site providing comfort and relief.  I immediately checked in with our local Red Cross office, which was buzzing with community members taking various trainings, ready to lend a hand. This was my calling; I knew my experience moving resources in the Marine Corps could be used to help with disaster relief efforts. Within a few weeks, I had taken all the classes needed and was deployed to Texas. The service I was able to provide alongside thousands of other volunteers was immeasurable. We looked into the eyes of those who lost so much and through generous donations from across the nation, we were able to provide hope.

Those moments sparked something in me that has continued to fuel my passion for service through the Red Cross for the past 17 years.  Every day I get to work alongside community members who volunteer their time and talents to support our military personnel, assist families after a disaster, provide lifesaving blood, and so much more. I am honored to have the opportunity to continue serving our beloved country. 

Semper Fidelis!

Diane St. Denis
Pacific Division Disaster Health Services Advisor

Photo courtesy of
Diane St. Denis

I spent 3 years in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and it was there that I realized how little I knew about the world. I also saw discrimination and limitations on what I, as a young woman, could expect as far as deployment opportunities, but also made lifelong friends, saw the Blue Angels up close and personal, and met the love of my life, my partner in crime, my Marine, my husband.

As a naive 18-year-old (who thought I was very worldly), I joined the Navy with no idea what to expect – I only knew that I wasn’t ready to do the college thing.  After a battery of tests, I was told I was going to Air Traffic Controller “A” school after bootcamp.

I was promoted to AC3, learned how to handle a stressful but exciting job, and how to live on a minuscule paycheck. To this day, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is a meal near and dear to my heart. All of the experiences I had in the Navy molded much of my future and made me realize how blessed I am to have learned the value of service to others.

After my discharge from the Navy and getting married, I found a job as a police dispatcher, utilizing the skills I learned in my time in service, but I finally recognized that my life was really meant to be in healthcare. Parenthood delayed my nursing education, and it took many years before I finally obtained my nursing license, but it was worth the wait. Nursing is what I was meant to do all along. I joined the Red Cross while I was in Nursing School, and I haven’t looked back.

I have seen many changes in Red Cross over the years. My training in the Navy taught me to deal with adversity, change direction on a dime, value friendships, the importance of organization, and believing in the mission. 

I eventually became the Disaster Health Services Lead for my Red Cross Chapter and was later appointed the advisor for the Pacific Division. At some point, I will relinquish the advisor role, and when I do, hope to have more time so that I can become more active in Service to the Armed Forces and serve our military community.

Reflecting on early my life, I learned the value of giving to others from my parents, particularly my mother. The Red Cross allowed me to utilize my nursing skills while helping others in need.

I have devoted myself to a life of service, including volunteering for organizations outside the Red Cross. It all started by serving my country and I continue to do that through my service in the Red Cross. And, like most of us that volunteer, I couldn’t do it without the support of my family. Their support of the mission and my passion allow me to do all that I do.

Kathleen Lenihan
Services to the Armed Force Volunteer Partner

Photo courtesy of Kathleen Lenihan

I joined the Army Nurse program in 1970 when I was still in nursing school. After graduation I was lucky to be stationed stateside at Fort Ord, California, for a year and then at Letterman Army Medical Center in San Francisco. I was the first army nurse to have a baby and stay on active duty at the Letterman Army Medical Center.

After I was released from active duty, I joined the Army Reserve and provided medical support to the active duty who were in training. We also set up a combat support hospital in various areas of the U.S. and provided medical care for those who were ill or injured during their time in the field.

While I was on one of these training missions, we had a briefing from a Red Cross volunteer who gave us the number for the Hero Care Center to give to our family members. My son was 17 at the time and staying home alone, having this number was a relief. If he needed to get a message to me, he was able to do it through the Hero Care Center, so in my personal experience, it does work.

One of the highlights of my Army Reserve training was going on a medical mission to a small town in the northern Andes mountains, called Cajamarca (Perú), at 9,000ft height. We went there for two and a half weeks and provided medical care to the local residents. We also brought along our veterinary team to provide veterinary care to the animals. Most people don’t realize the number of medical missions that the U.S. military provides throughout the years to countries that have very little medical or veterinary care.

Kathleen is now the Volunteer Partner for the region’s Service to the Armed Forces team, she is a Red Cross representative at the VA Hospital in San Francisco, and she is a member of the Disaster Health Services team, deploying to support people affected by disasters big and small.

Larry Dietz
Regional Public Affairs Volunteer Partner

Photo courtesy of Larry Dietz

I began my military service in September 1963 when I joined Reserve Officers Training Corps at Northeastern University, Boston. It was either ROTC or gym class, and I hated going to the gym, so it was an easy decision.

I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, Military Intelligence, US Army on August 1, 1968. In April 1969 I was assigned to the 509th Radio Research Group in the Republic of Viet Nam, where my first assignment was as a Radio Research Platoon leader in support of the 1st Infantry Division in Quan Loi, Dau Tieng, and Xian.

September 1969 found me reassigned as a Communications Security (COMSEC) Officer and responsible for Crypto Facility inspections. My tour in the Republic of Viet Nam was over in April 1969 and I was released from active duty in September 1970. I served four years in the inactive Army Reserve and was discharged in September 1974.

In 1980 I decided that I wanted to go back into the Reserve and was reappointed as a Captain and commanded the 519th ASA Company, providing support to warfighters such as the Marines and the 7th Infantry Division. Subsequent assignments in the Reserve took me to Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia.

In August 1989, I joined the Strategic Intelligence section. From July 1997 to February 1998, I served as the Deputy Commander of the Joint Information Campaign Task Force, Sarajevo, Bosnia, and I was promoted to Colonel in November 1998.

After my retirement, in April 2002, I graduated from the US Army War College. I served as a volunteer instructor for deploying personnel at Fort Hunter Liggett in December 2003 and April 2005, and was elected Honorary Colonel of the US Army in 2003, and served in that position until 2010.

In the summer of 1999, I attended a Red Cross Northern California Coast Region Training Symposium in Pebble Beach, Calif. where I was certified as a Public Affairs Associate. I volunteered sporadically until December 2016 when I was assigned as the Volunteer Partner to the Regional Communications Director.

In addition to Public Affairs, I am active in Service to the Armed Forces and serve as an International Humanitarian Law Instructor. I have deployed for the San Jose Flood, numerous wildfires and two mass casualty events.

Being a Red Crosser has certainly afforded me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s very refreshing to work for an organization that has a universal humanitarian cause. It feels that you’re actually helping others and Red Cross volunteers are genuinely nice people – they just want to help out and do good.

To learn more about how the Red Cross supports active military, veterans and their families or volunteer to work alongside them to make our communities stronger, visit redcross.org/SAF.