By Mark Walker
Austin Gamache continues to strive to be all he can be.
After two combat tours in Iraq and 11 years of service to the nation, he’s now serving his community as an American Red Cross volunteer disaster assistance team leader.
The Tacoma native enlisted with the South Puget Sound Red Cross chapter in 2017, a couple of years after retiring from the U.S. Army.
“I just love being able to help people,” said Gamache, who was a sergeant when he was discharged. “It’s the purest form of charity.”
Now living in Puyallup, the 36-year-old Gamache figures he’s racked up more than 2,000 hours responding to house fires and other emergency needs in the region.
Gamache is very familiar with high-stress situations having spent 27 months in Iraq during the most grueling and deadly months of the Iraq War. He joined the Army in 2004 and spent the bulk of his career in chemical weapons work, including stints as an instructor.
He suffered minor head and chest wounds in a 2008 mortar attack in Baghdad while assigned to a biological and chemical weapons unit. He was able to return to duty after treatment for his injuries.
As one of the thousands of former members of the military who often serve as the backbone of Red Cross volunteer services nationwide, Gamache brings a variety of insights to his current role. He’s familiar with people in distress, in part as an outgrowth of his own experiences coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“I don’t hide my PTSD, and do everything I can to lessen the stigmas attached to it,” he said.
Being able to help provide aid and comfort to people in stressful situations also benefits him.
“I’ve found that doing whatever I can to help the community and area I love helps me in my life. I’ve been through a lot, and now get to do something very positive.”
As his breadth of Red Cross volunteer experience grows, Gamache anticipates a national disaster response may come his way soon.