Story and photo by Rick Emert
Six months in as the new Fort Carson station manager, Susanne Harlandt is all but shouting from the mountaintops to let the community know what the Red Cross has to offer.
Here’s a hint, it has nothing to do with blood drives, disaster relief or first-aid classes.
The Red Cross on Fort Carson has three main missions: Red Cross emergency messages, a volunteer program and support to wounded warriors and their Families. Other services offered include: financial assistance, information and referral services, deployment tips and services for veterans.
Although emergency messages are the primary mission of the Red Cross – the staff processes about 300 a month here – the volunteer program at the post’s hospitals and clinics has grown to more than
100 volunteers during the past six months, Harlandt said.
While she views all of the Red Cross missions as important, Harlandt is most passionate about assisting wounded Soldiers, she said.
The daughter of a warrant officer who served two tours in the Vietnam War, Harlandt saw firsthand what combat stress can do to a Soldier and Family, she said.
“It … has sort of become a part of me since I was a little girl,” she said. “My dad came back pretty messed up – not physically, but emotionally – after his second tour of Vietnam. I was kind of the recipient of that. That takes a toll after a while. As time goes by, you realize … the individual doesn’t have the capacity to make the choices we want them to make. If you can, you educate yourself on the reasons why. I learned a lot by volunteering at the (Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.); I learned a lot about my dad by volunteering at the wall.”
Later, her own marriage became a casualty of war during Operation Desert Storm.
“Desert Storm came along, and I was married at the time to somebody who got deployed,” she said. “I’m definitely a deployment statistic in that respect; we didn’t make it. I didn’t recognize it in my own family. That’s when I started doing some research … and learning about reintegration. Now I’m in the position where I can actually maybe make a difference in somebody’s life.”
Her life experiences helped when she assisted in standing up the Army Medical Action Plan under the Warrior Transition Program at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
“I was able to bring that knowledge with me here,” she said. “It has served us well, but, more importantly, it has served the WTB well. I’m really proud of that.”
One of those Soldiers served well is Sgt. Eddie Doyle, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. Doyle suffered moderate to severe traumatic brain injury and shrapnel wounds in April 2008 while deployed to the Sadr City area of Baghdad.
He met Harlandt at LRMC.
“You’ve got your caseworkers there, but so many people come in every day. She would actually go up there, pick us up and show us where we needed to go. She helped us out a lot. She got us some home-cooked meals. I ate like a mad man.”
The services from the Red Cross and help from Harlandt aided in the healing process, he said.
“Morale-wise, she really helped a lot. She gave me a lot of good information,” Doyle said. “She sends you to the right person, so you aren’t running around. It was an amazing thing. She helped us out, helped out a lot of people.”
Some of the work she did for wounded Soldiers at Landstuhl was part of her job description, but much of it was simply out of kindness.
“During duty hours I always had the badge on. After duty hours, maybe the badge was on; maybe it was off.
It doesn’t matter,” she said. “You take care of these guys, because they deserve everything you can give them.”
She also hopes to take care of the Mountain Post community, but getting the word out has been difficult, she said.
“I can say with a fairly good degree of certainty, that most of the community does not know what we do and what needs we can meet. So, therefore, they don’t ask,” she said. “We want people on post … to know what we can do, as well. We’ll brief the (Family readiness group) leaders. We will brief anybody, anytime, because we want them to know what exactly we can do for them. We can do more than they think we can.”
Harlandt said she fears that congressional funding to support wounded warrior services and programs could one day disappear.
“A lot of what we are doing now is really dependent on finances. What happens if (Department of Defense) says: ‘Well, this will be the last year of your grant?’ What do we do then? The level of support that we get right now from Congress is very significant. I think that they (donors) could not meet that. I’m really afraid of having people count on us and then one day we wake up and say: ‘I’m sorry; you can’t count usanymore.’ That would break my heart.”
Still, Harlandt continues to seek new ways to support wounded warriors and their Families on Fort Carson. Among them is a combat stress program dreamed up by a wounded warrior in which Iraq and Afghanistan veterans could meet up with Vietnam War veterans for movies, games or simply to talk. But, the space is not available for such programs, Harlandt said.
“It’s that we’re a little bit hampered by what we can do. If I want to have a combat stress group meeting in here with five people, I can’t,” she said, waving around at her office that was cluttered with two bulky, donated electric wheelchairs. “I would love to have a little building someplace where we could actually sponsor this. (Judge Advocate General) signed off on it; they went thumbs up.”
Harlandt said she hopes that community interest and support for Red Cross will improve as word gets out about what the organization contributes.
“That’s my dream. I really … plan to help make that happen,” Harlandt said. “It’s those guys out there that are going to benefit, and that’s what we’re here for. We send them out to war. We have a responsibility to take care of them when they come back. I really believe that.”