By Tim Healy, American Red Cross Volunteer
South Puget Sound and Olympics Red Cross board member Manny Martinez gained his appreciation for the American Red Cross honestly: As an Air force officer in Hawaii, the organization helped him get an urgent, emergency leave to see his sick mother in Florida in 2008. It remains one of the core services of the Red Cross in supporting overseas service men and women (Hawaii is considered “overseas” in this context) to certify the validity of such urgent leave requests.
Fortunately, the leave was granted, and Manny was on a flight to see his mother in an intensive care unit within 24 hours of his request. His mother recovered, and Manny was able to see first-hand how the organization provides a vital service.
“The Red Cross is the conduit that verifies the emergency situation and provides confirmation to the unit overseas to make it happen,” says Manny. “It’s an immediate process, and the Red Cross helps make sure people can get to where they should be in times of need.”
Fast forward to 2020, barely two years after Manny retired as a Chief Master Sergeant after 30 years in the Air Force. He had started his own consultancy called Relentless Leadership LLC working with organizations on leadership issues. He met Dan Wirth, executive director of the South Puget Sound and Olympics Red Cross chapter, who invited him to be a board member. Manny joined the board in November 2021.
“Manny has a heart of service and through his consulting business and military background, I knew he would offer significant value,” says Dan. “When you speak with Manny, you immediately notice (even on video) how he listens to you.”
Obviously, Manny is still very new to the board and becoming familiar with the challenges facing the Red Cross in the region.
In part, he sees his role as helping the organization build its diversity. “The Red Cross chapter here is growing, and we want to make sure we’re mindful of diversity, equity, inclusion – how we can create a level playing field within the Red Cross,” he says.
He also knows that he has a specific skillset in leadership training that could be useful. “There is a certain leadership toolkit that I know that I can bring to the Red Cross as a thank you,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Hey, I have these skills you can benefit from. I’d love to share them with you.’ That’s just who I am.”
At the same time, he recognizes the imperative of supporting one of the core missions of the Red Cross: Encouraging blood donations.
He notes that there is less than a one-day supply of blood in some Puget Sound locations. “COVID has only exacerbated the shortages,” he says.
Manny was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Florida with his family as a child. He joined the military shortly after turning 18. Although retired, the Air Force is never far from his thoughts, especially now with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Just the other day, I got into a discussion about what’s going on with a clerk at Lowe’s,” he says. “His father was in the Air Force, and we talked about how gut-wrenching the situation is. I have conflicted feelings. On the one hand, I want to always be ready to serve, but on the other I know it’s the time for someone else, a new generation. And that’s the way it should be. That’s the way it should be.”
Manny is married with two children. His daughter recently graduated from Washington State (“Go Cougs,” he says). His son is in high school in Olympia.
Asked what message he would like to send to potential blood donors in the region, Manny takes a breath and leans forward: “Denzel Washington once said that the most selfish thing a person can do is to help somebody else.”
“If you feel like helping, and you don’t care about you getting the credit, it doesn’t cost you anything to give blood. I mean, with one pint of blood, you could be giving someone their life back. What is better than that.”