Two women to pay knowing tribute to work of Red Cross

Group helped mother visit wounded son

volunteer assisted 400 Isabel victims

Westminster

March 05, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Within 12 hours of the time her son was critically injured in Iraq, the Red Cross had helped fly Ruth Vogel to his bedside at an Army hospital in Germany.

As a devastating tropical storm approached Maryland last fall, Red Cross volunteer Cyndi Walcott prepared a shelter in eastern Baltimore County where she eventually cared for 400 victims of Isabel.

The women, both Westminster residents, will be among six people relating their stories and paying tribute today as the international aid organization celebrates its first Testimonial Day and National Red Cross Month at the Red Cross headquarters on Mount Hope Drive in Northwest Baltimore.

"We will talk about the work of the Red Cross," said Ruth L. Tyler, public relations associate with the organization. "We hope to highlight the work and raise awareness. People know that we are responsible for helping in disasters and organizing blood drives, but we do much more."

For several years, Walcott, 35, volunteered at several blood drives. But she wanted to expand her volunteer hours.

For more than a year, she has become accustomed to midnight phone calls or a beeping pager asking for her help in responding to disasters. She coordinated Red Cross efforts at more than 40 fires last year in Carroll and Baltimore counties and in Baltimore City.

"The Red Cross makes sure families are OK and that all their needs are taken care of so they can get back on their feet," Walcott said. "This is the most rewarding thing I have ever done."

She had some time to prepare for Isabel, the storm that destroyed many homes in the region. The day before the storm hit, Red Cross officials asked Walcott to run a small shelter at Stemmers Run Middle School in eastern Baltimore County.

"I knew where the school was so I said OK," she said. "We only had about 18 people in the beginning."

That all changed in the middle of the night when emergency crews brought busloads of storm victims to the school. Walcott helped make about 400 people "as comfortable as possible" throughout the stormy night and the next day. And, she would do it again, she said of her 30-hour stint.

"I would love to do this full time and go on national calls," said Walcott, a customer service supervisor for a consulting company in Carroll County.

Vogel found out what the Red Cross can do to help a family in crisis on July 22.

At 8 a.m. that day, she received a call from Iraq where her 22-year-old son, Sgt. Brandon Erickson, was serving with his National Guard unit. She learned that he had been injured in an ambush and airlifted to a surgical unit, but further information on the severity of his injuries was not available.

Vogel, who works for the Baltimore City Health Department, spent the next few hours frantically making calls to anyone who might be able to help her get more information on her son. It was her husband, Craig, who suggested the Red Cross.

"I work on the city's response to bioterrorism, but I freaked out," she said. "The Red Cross got us basic contact information and gave us really common-sense things to do that you don't think of in the mind-set we were in."

About four hours after that initial call, Vogel heard from her son. He called from a mobile phone in Iraq. Groggy from surgery, he told her he had lost his right arm and had a lot of cuts. She later learned that his truck had hit a land mine and that he had been struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.

"All I heard was `they are saying I am fine' and then, the phone cut off," Vogel said. "I couldn't get him back."

The Red Cross and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office helped arrange immediate travel for Vogel. After landing in Germany, Vogel said, the Red Cross met her with "a bag of stuff I might need" and then "they helped me find my son. I really needed to be there for him."

"We were back in the States three days later and once again, the Red Cross was there for us with everything from phone cards and food to [hotel] accommodations," she said. "They were a huge part of the picture during this traumatic time in our lives."

Erickson spent nearly five months recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He wears a prosthesis and is coping with partial hearing loss but is doing well, his mother said.

"He is not focusing on what happened to him, but rather on how to handle it," she said.

Erickson has returned to classes at the University of North Dakota, hoping to graduate next year.

In the past few months, he has spoken about his experiences in Iraq to several school groups, including at Westminster High.

Vogel has also spoken frequently of the experience, and today she will recount how much the Red Cross has helped her family.

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