Monday, September 10, 2012

A 9/11 Personal Account from T.D. Smyers: U.S. Navy Turned Red Cross Leader

Written by T.D. Smyers, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross, North Texas Region 

As September 11, 2001 dawned, I was on Navy staff duty in New Orleans, LA. My friend, "Twitch" and I were worrying about a PowerPoint and Excel presentation we had to do in a peacetime Navy before our lives and careers dramatically changed. As we watched news of the attacks we had no idea what kind of world we were now living in; we could only guess at the kind of operations we would lead and we struggled with the nature of our enemy. What we did know is that we were in for a fight - us and our families. Twitch left the staff shortly after 9-11 to lead a squadron of fighter aircraft in bombing runs over Afghanistan. I left at about the same time to lead a squadron of surveillance aircraft against terrorist targets in the Western Pacific and to prepare for potential combat operations in the Middle East. Life changed quickly for us, and the challenges faced by the military family grew more drastic and starkly real.

In the years since the September 11 Terrorist Attacks, I've served a number of roles in the United States Navy, including tours in the Pentagon and command of a Naval Air Station. Late last year, I retired from the military and picked up a new mantle of service - the humanitarian mission of the American Red Cross. Today, I am proud to lead a professional team of staff and volunteers who perform selfless, eye-watering work on behalf of others every single day. In fact, my Region Team turns a family's despair into hope once every four or five hours; and that's just in North Texas.

As I reflect on the gutsy, smart and dedicated teammates with whom I serve in today's Red Cross, I recognize something familiar. I recognize the dedication, courage and commitment with which I grew up in the United States Navy. I count it a privilege to have served with America's Sailors, just as I now consider it a privilege to serve with the Red Cross. In fact, the link becomes even stronger when I consider how our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) teams help thousands of military men and women, and their families, with the very real challenges they face every day; challenges that are a permanent part of the new world I saw ushered in on September 11, 2001.

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