Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Red Cross Story: Steve Peth

Service is in His Nature: From Army DUSTOFF Pilot to Decorated Veteran to Private Sector to Volunteer

Written by: Clarice Nassif Ransom, Volunteer

Name: Steve Peth, LTC, U.S. Army, Ret.

Resides: Nokesville, VA
Career: 26 Years, U.S. Army, retired; BDM International; 10 years Raytheon Corporation, retired
Years of Volunteer Service: 11 and continuing at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Facility

Steve helping a
military veteran with
physical therapy
Steve Peth is a dedicated American Red Cross volunteer and group leader serving the staff and patients at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (Walter Reed) in Bethesda, Maryland. His calm-at-the-helm, friendly, and humble demeanor makes Peth the affable leader people love to be around and follow. At Walter Reed, the largest military medical facility in the nation, Peth coordinates 65-75 American Red Cross volunteers who help support care to the ill, wounded, and injured service men, women, and their families in the Department of Rehabilitation. The American Red Cross is the sole organization allowed to provide volunteers onsite at the prestigious medical facility. After undergoing a military clearance process, potential volunteers are then interviewed by Peth and matched with an available position in the Department of Rehabilitation.

“Number one, this is a military base,” said Peth. “Number two, it is a hospital setting. And number three, this is where we treat the President of the United States, members of Congress, and other dignitaries. So, security has to be a high priority.”

Service to others is a lifelong pursuit for Peth and is embedded in his nature.

“My inspiration to volunteer for the American Red Cross goes back to my first assignment in the Army, where I was assigned as an Army medical evacuation pilot (known as DUSTOFF) for 11 months in 1968/69 during the Vietnam War,” said Peth, now 71. “Evacuating people from the battlefield remains the most rewarding part of my career, and I was 22-years-old at the time. The helicopter I flew donned the famous red cross with white background to signify that, under the Geneva Convention rules, we were not supposed to be a target of combat.”

DUSTOFF crew members are among the most highly decorated soldiers in American history. During the Vietnam War, they pioneered the concept of dedicated and rapid medical evacuation during combat using unarmed helicopters designated with the red cross to distinguish them from other aerial vehicles. Many Vietnam battles raged at night, and DUSTOFF crews had to find landing amid potentially deadly combat with little visibility in mountainous or jungle terrain and during variable weather situations to rescue the wounded. They would then provide medical care enroot to a dedicated medical facility which proved to be the difference between life and death for the wounded. DUSTOFF crews were responsible for saving hundreds of thousands of lives during the Vietnam War, and are the model for modern-day rescue efforts in war torn areas.

“During one of my rescue missions, I finally got shot myself and evacuated from Vietnam to the United States to heal up,” said Peth, who went back to Vietnam for a second tour of duty. “Years later, when I retired, first from the Army after 26 years of service, followed by a 12-year-career in the private sector, it occurred to me that I might be a fairly decent volunteer at Walter Reed having been wounded myself during combat. I could offer empathy to young service people that others may not because of my personal experience being injured in combat, and I wanted to do something to give back to the military community with my newly found spare time. I saw on television what they were doing to help amputees through physical therapy, and I knew that this is what I wanted to do. So, I joined the American Red Cross and began serving in 2006 at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center and then transitioned to the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.”

Steve as
in Vietnam War, 1968
When Peth is not shepherding volunteers, conducting intake interviews, and placing volunteers in different roles, he serves as a general volunteer at the facility’s Military Advanced Training Center’s physical and occupational therapy sections doing what he can to help staff and spend time with patients. From changing sheets, pillows, and towels, to moving patients back into their rooms, or helping patients with their exercises, Peth is making a difference to everyone whose life he touches.

“The patients and the staff are our customers, and we are there to serve them,” said Peth. “The staff is very appreciative of anything we can do to help them out. We have volunteers from all different backgrounds from retired doctors and lawyers to college and high school students and everyone in between.”

Peth acknowledges that he gets a lot of inspiration from volunteering, especially when people show their appreciation.

“All the clinic chiefs, doctors, nurses, therapists, and patients appreciate what we do,” said Peth. “When someone appreciates my contribution, that makes me want to do more.”

Walter Reed serves a lot of young people with terrible injuries, from amputees to those who suffer from brain and neurological disorders, and motivating people to do the things they used to enjoy before their injuries is a goal for therapists and where volunteers can help.

“For example, we have three Red Cross volunteers that are hobbyists with small remote control aircraft,” said Peth. “Once a week as part of their occupational therapy, they teach and assist patients to build models and fly the aircraft. This is extremely encouraging for the patients. We also use what is called assistive technology. We have a volunteer up in New Jersey who develops game controllers and he has created a design so that people with missing thumbs can use a game controller. He designs it and sends it to us electronically, and we produce it for our patients using a 3-D printer onsite. The patient’s love it.”

Working with the amputees is also quite an awe-stirring experience for Peth.

Steve helping a fellow volunteer
change bedding in the
Physical Therapy Clinic
“I have worked with 5 amputees who have lost all four limbs,” said Peth. “One in particular, the first person to lose all four limbs and survive, had a tremendous motivation to keep going and that inspired me. I would see him once a week. He liked cars; I liked cars. One day, I saw him on ‘60 Minutes.’ He was talking about getting an arm transplant. I had never heard of such a treatment. I started asking him all sorts of questions such as where is he going to get it done and how long did he think he was going to be on a waiting list to get arms? He said, ‘I don’t know, Steve, but your arms look pretty good.’ Boy, did we laugh. To have such a sense of humor with everything he faced sparked me to keep going.”

On Jan. 9, Peth experienced a significant heart attack in the middle of the night. Most people with the type of blockage he had do not survive. Because he lives in a fairly rural area, Peth knew he had to get to the hospital as soon as possible and couldn’t wait for an ambulance to pick him up at home. He asked his wife to drive him and very quickly they decided to stop at the nearest fire station on the way to the hospital. They called 911 to warn the fire department that Peth was on his way and that he was suffering from severe chest pain. Little did Peth know, there were several fire stations along the way to the hospital, so the dispatcher alerted all fire stations in the area of the situation because they were unclear where Peth would end up. Peth stopped at the Prince William County Fire & Rescue Station 6 on Dumfries Road near Manassas, Virginia, and while they did not have an onsite ambulance, they had the equipment to start to save his life, like setting up an IV and giving him nitroglycerine. Peth knew from his medical background as a DUSTOFF pilot, that the fire station staff was doing all the right things to save his life. When they were finished administering onsite medical help, an ambulance from a nearby fire station was waiting and off they went to the hospital, where he continued to successfully be treated. After Peth was released from the hospital, he wanted to personally thank the people who saved his life with their quick response and teamwork. So, on Jan. 29, just 20 days after his heart attack, Peth and his wife attended a dinner at the fire house where all those who helped save his life from both fire stations were present. He was able to thank them in person for saving his life.

“Those of you serving as civilian first responders should not take your service and jobs for granted,” said Peth. “I told them they should be proud of what they do. They save lives, and nothing is more precious than that.”  

Peth wants to continue his legacy of serving, so he went back to volunteering at Walter Reed as soon as he could after the heart attack—within a few weeks after his heart attack.

“I am most proud of making a contribution that is appreciated and enhances the lives of the military, their families, and veterans as well as helping to earn a sterling reputation for the American Red Cross at Walter Reed,” said Peth. “Also, I am a Vietnam veteran. Vietnam veterans were not necessarily appreciated by the public as returning veterans are today.  Regardless of the way Vietnam Veterans were treated, I am passing along a legacy of treating everyone, especially veterans, with honor, dignity and respect, the way Vietnam veterans should have been treated then and will continue to be treated by me now.”

Peth’s 26-year military career includes enlisted, warrant and commissioned service. During that time, he also commanded a variety of aviation and field artillery units. As an Army helicopter pilot, he accumulated 3600 hours flight time with nearly half in combat during his two tours of duty in Vietnam. Peth’s decorations include: the Silver Star, two awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal for Valor, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

GEN. Creighton Abrams,
Commander of MACV,
pins the Silver Star
on Steve, prior to
being evacuated
to the U.S., 1969
Peth retired from the Raytheon Company on August 1, 2004, as Vice President of Air and Missile Defense Programs, U.S. Business Development. He was responsible for a team of business development professionals providing air and missile defense expertise for Raytheon and interface with customers in the Department of Defense. In 2006, Mr. Peth was awarded the Missile Defense Agency Technology Pioneer Award for his work on the missile defense “Family of X-Band Radars” that are being deployed today as part of a comprehensive missile defense system for the United States Homeland, deployed troops and friends and allies. Peth joined the Raytheon Company in 1994 where he served initially as an Army Business Development Manager, and later, Director in the Raytheon Company Washington Operations. In September 1999, he established the Air and Missile Defense Directorate in Raytheon’s Corporate Business Development offices in Rosslyn, VA.  Prior to joining Raytheon, he served as a Principal Staff Member for Strategic Systems Development in BDM International. 

 “As you get older, you would like to do something that is appreciated within society and not necessarily getting a paycheck to do it,” said Peth. “Being a Red Cross volunteer fits the bill.”

No comments:

Post a Comment