By Gordon Williams
Veteran’s Day has always had special significance for the American Red Cross — Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was a battlefield nurse during the Civil War. Hundreds of thousands of members of the military and their families have been aided by the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces function.
And then there are people like Sarah Satterfield of Edmonds, WA who has served in both roles. She retired in 1998 as a lieutenant colonel, after spending 21 years in the United States Army. She is currently the volunteer Logistics Lead for the Red Cross Northwest Region, based in Seattle and covering Washington and Northern Idaho.
Logistics is a crucial function for the Red Cross — and one that consumes a huge share of the money that comes from donors. “One hundred percent of what we do is because someone has made a donation to the Red Cross,” she says. Whenever the Red Cross is called upon to care for disaster victims, there must be cots for them to sleep on, blankets to keep them warm, and food and water to sustain them.
When we talked, Sarah was preparing to send trucks to a Nestle facility in Kent, WA to pick up pallets of bottled water to hand out to disaster victims. Asked how many bottles of water the Northwest Region distributes in a year, she says simply, “a lot of them.”
Sarah was a new graduate of Ohio State University when she enlisted in the Army in 1977. “I was working in a gift shop,” she recalls. “I met a guy who offered me a job paying 600 dollars a month, and so I joined the Army.” As a college graduate, she came in as a Private First Class (PFC) rather than as a recruit. [That entitled her to wear a stripe on her sleeve. “But they didn’t let me wear the stripe until I had completed basic training,” she says.]
She first served as an administrative specialist with the 24th Infantry Division, but then went through Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning, GA, coming out as a lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps. The Corps is to the Army what the logistics function is to the Red Cross — suppliers of all the food, clothing and equipment needed to carry out the organization’s mission.
A fair share of Sarah’s years in the military were spent at Fort Lee, VA, headquarters of the Quartermaster Corps. She also served in Germany and Korea, and spent time with the Defense Logistics Agency in Washington, D.C., which oversees logistics for all branches of the military.
When she began looking around for volunteer opportunities after she left the military, the Red Cross was an obvious choice. There was an opportunity to make use of the skills in supply and logistics that she learned in the military. Further, as Sarah recalls, the Red Cross had a visible presence at every military base at which she was stationed.
“I was impressed with what the Red Cross did for the military,” she says. “I felt that by joining the Red Cross, I would be continuing to serve.” She became a volunteer five years ago, and has been super active in the Seattle office ever since. She has helped recruit new volunteers and been deployed to disaster scenes such as the Oso landslide in 2014 and Hurricane Irma in 2017.
But logistics is her primary responsibility and one, she says, “that keeps me very busy.” Other units of the Red Cross supply the volunteers who work at disaster scenes, but almost everything else comes from the Logistics team. Sarah’s function supplies the shelters themselves, and all the supplies and food that the Red Cross will provide to clients. Supplies have to be bought, warehoused and transported to the scene.
When disaster does strike, the Red Cross will often have just a few hours to get shelters staffed, supplied and up and running, so it’s a big job Sarah does in logistics. But what, in turn, does the Red Cross do for her?
First, she says, there is the satisfaction of being able to serve even after her military career came to an end. Beyond that, she says, “The Red Cross lets me get to know another community.” Truly, the Red Cross it is a community filled with people driven by the same desire to serve that has kept Sarah motivated and involved over the years.
In the interest of full disclosure, the writer of this article once commanded a platoon in the 72nd Quartermaster Field Bakery company at Fort Lee. We could bake enough bread each day out in the field to feed a full Army corps.