By Gordon Williams
With the Independence Day holiday at hand, it’s a good time to reflect on how much Red Cross volunteers do in the service of their country. Not only is the Red Cross on scene at the major disasters that strike the U.S., but the organization provides direct support to the nation’s military through its Service to Armed Forces (SAF) program.
Among Red Cross volunteers, few serve with greater vigor than Linda Becerra of the Northwest Region’s South Puget Sound & Olympics chapter. Linda was honored at the chapter’s recent Volunteer Recognition night for putting in 429 hours of service over the course of 5 years. That is the equivalent of 18 full days responding to disasters, installing smoke alarms, teaching preparedness to young kids and helping active duty military and veterans.
That would be a heavy workload if it was all Linda did. But besides volunteering for the Red Cross, Linda is also the single mother of four-year old Henry. To top it all, she is active duty military — a Master of Arms Second Class at Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton. What gives Linda the drive and enthusiasm to manage all that? “I get bored very easily,” she says. “I don’t sit down very well.”
As anyone familiar with the military knows, no posting is forever. “We are uprooted every few years and have to start over,” she says. So later this summer, the Navy will move her from Bremerton to a base in Sasebo, Japan. A “PCS” (permanent change of station) won’t be anything new for Linda. She once spent time at nine different stations in a single year. She will be looking for Red Cross activities to participate in while in Japan. Back home, her chapter will need to recruit new high-energy volunteers to fill all the slots which Linda will leave vacant.
Linda joined the Navy 10 years ago after finishing high school in Fresno, CA. Since Fresno is far inland, we asked Linda how she happened to choose the Navy. “My dad was in the Navy during the Vietnam era,” she says. By training, Linda is an electrician and much of her Navy service was spent in aviation electronics. But the Navy needed masters at arms — providing law enforcement to the service — and that is what she does now. She will be working on base security when she goes to Japan.
She first came to the Red Cross five years ago when she was pregnant with young Henry and looking for activities that would distract her. At that time she was stationed at the naval air station on Whidbey Island. In 2017, she joined the Red Cross in Bremerton when she was transferred to Naval Base Kitsap.
She talked about her first days in Bremerton when she accepted the award at the Red Cross Volunteer Appreciation Night. “A freshly minted single mom, I moved into a third-floor walkup with a one-year-old, a sea bag of uniforms and a box of diapers,” she explained.
Hardly had she settled in when a phone call sent her to help manage a Red Cross shelter which opened after a huge apartment house fire in SeaTac, WA. “Folks had been displaced and a shelter needed to be opened,” she says. “I immediately said ‘yes’ and left my son with his father to make the commute from Bremerton to SeaTac.”
Linda has also worked in a shelter in Maple Falls, WA in Whatcom County after a heavy snow fall. She helps recruit volunteers for the Red Cross pillowcase project, which teaches preparedness to school kids. She is active in the Red Cross Sound-The-Alarm campaign, which installs smoke alarms in homes that don’t have a working alarm. She has organized STA teams and installed around 50 alarms on her own.
Not surprisingly, Linda is driven to work on programs that aid those in the military. She has taught Red Cross Healing Arts classes, which aim to relieve stress for service members, and takes part in the Red Cross Mail for Heroes project, which delivers holiday cards to those in the military. Along with the cards, service members get bags of cookies to add to the holiday season cheer.
When does she find time to do it all? “I do a lot of it on the phone,” she says. “I get a lot done during my lunch break.” Son Henry tags along often enough to have become a familiar figure at Red Cross events.
Linda has high praise for the fellow Red Cross volunteers she has worked with. As she put it at the Volunteer Appreciation event, “It is truly awe inspiring to know that a little girl from Fresno can stand shoulder to shoulder with outstanding individuals within the American Red Cross. I would have never dreamed of being so useful to a community nearly 1,000 miles from home.”
Eventually Linda will retire from the Navy, and already she is looking ahead to what she will do then. “My career goal,” she says, “is to become a registered nurse.” It is a near certainty that she will use those nursing skills in the service of the American Red Cross.