Story by Robert Zamalin, Communications Volunteer, American Red Cross serving Orange County
When disaster strikes, the Red Cross is there. But while many know the Red Cross for disaster relief efforts after major emergencies, a large part of the Red Cross is dedicated to helping members of the military, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to the challenges of military service.
Gene Coughlin, Director of Service to the Armed Forces for the American Red Cross Desert to the Sea Region, knows very well the impact that the Red Cross has on our service members near and far.
As a Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer, Coughlin was stationed in Okinawa, Japan when he received an emergency communications message through Red Cross channels that his father was ill. Because of that Red Cross message, his commander was able to grant him emergency leave and get him back to the United States. Over the years, many Marines under Gene’s charge received Red Cross messages because of a situation back home that necessitated them to take emergency leave.
That was his first experience with the Red Cross, but certainly wouldn’t be the last.
It all began when he chose the Marine Corps over other branches of the Service. “The Marine Corps recruiter was a better salesman,” he joked.
He started as a “regular old infantryman” and rose up through the enlisted ranks. He was selected as a Marine Gunner, also known as an Infantry Weapons Officer. These officers are weapons specialists, knowledgeable in the tactical employment of all infantry weapons in the Marine Corps arsenal, and are advisors to the force commanders within the Fleet Marines Force’s task forces. Gene’s specialty involved the training and education of infantry personnel and units. He served multiple overseas tours and is a decorated combat veteran.
After serving 20 years, Gene retired as a Chief Warrant Officer in late 2007. When he retired, he did not have any college background. He went to work for Science Applications International (SAIC), a defense contractor, as a Program Manager for the Joint National Training Capability- a position was sponsored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “This was a good job, which was not based upon any formal schooling, but upon my military career and military record,” said Coughlin.
Gene describes his position as one in which he worked to get the services to train together during peacetime, the same way they have to fight together during wartime. “We would coordinate training between the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Army and Special Operations,” said Coughlin.
While at SAIC, Gene received his Master of Military Studies degree with a concentration in Joint Warfare from American Military University. He also received an MBAwith a concentration in Human Resource Management from National University. Currently, he is a Doctor of Education (EdD) candidate at Pepperdine University– his dissertation research focuses on individual and collective resilience in military organizations. Coughlin intends to focus his future research on the unique contributions that veterans make to civilian organizations following their military service. As an adjunct professor, Coughlin teaches graduate courses in Business Administration and Organizational Leadership at several universities in Southern California.
About nine months ago, Coughlin joined the team at the American Red Cross. “The challenge was exactly what I was looking for,” he said. Coughlin describes his primary duty as developing Red Cross capability within the region to deliver services to both men and woman in uniform and their families. Under Coughlin’s leadership, outreach to veterans has also increased significantly.
“To give you an idea of the magnitude of that expansion of services, there are about two million people who wear their uniform at least once a month. There are 22 million veterans across the country. That is a ten-fold increase in the number of potential clients that the Red Cross is looking to provide services to- including information and referrals to the many resources that are available to the veterans in the local community,” said Coughlin.
This Veterans Day, Coughlin gave a speech at Fullerton City Veterans celebration, and many Service to the Armed Forces volunteers will be volunteering at different Veterans Day events across the region.
It’s a very busy day for Red Crossers as they continue the honored tradition of serving active duty and veteran service members throughout the region.
“The Red Cross is a known and well-trusted organization,” says Coughlin. “I always recognized the Red Cross as being there for me and other Marines when we needed them. The Red Cross was there to serve those who serve. We are now able to expand our services to veterans because of the trust and confidence that the veterans have of the Red Cross from the time they were in uniform to the time they became veterans.”
To Gene, and all who have served, we thank you for your service and sacrifice- not just on Veterans Day, but every day.