Hometown Heroes 2014 Profiles: From Military Hero to Hometown Hero: John & Nancy Colburn

This week we are starting a new series of blog posts highlighting the awards recipients for the 2014 Hometown Heroes Celebration put on by the American Red Cross of West Michigan. Each year the American Red Cross celebrates the community heroes who inspire us through their commitment to service and their recognition of the humanity of their neighbors down the street, across the country, and around the world. The event will be held on Thursday, May 1 from 6:00PM-10:00PM at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. For ticket information please visit our Hometown Heroes event page.

Story by Heather Goodale

ImageThis year for our Hometown Heroes Celebration, we’re honored to present retired Army LTC John Colburn and his wife, Nancy, with the General George Marshall Patriot Award for their amazing contributions to the Red Cross and the military community. The Patriot Award is given to individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in service to the United States and our country’s men and women in uniform.

As a military veteran, I know how valuable the services the Red Cross provides to the military are – I’ve taken the calls for Red Cross messages, delivered news to soldiers, and coordinated with the Red Cross to help get soldiers home for joyous actions such as the birth of a child, and heart breaking situations such as a loved one’s funeral.

As a LTC in the Army, John dealt a lot with the Red Cross in his role and saw the impact the Red Cross had on soldiers. He started volunteering his time in the Kalamazoo area shortly after retiring and, 19 years later, he is still active with both the Red Cross and the military.

LTC Colburn

LTC. John Colburn and his wife, Nancy, are the 2014 recipients of the General George Marshall Patriot Award

As  case worker and station manager, John has traveled to Washington, D.C.; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Hood, Texas; Alaska; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Fort Irwin, California; London, England; Germany; Japan; Italy; and countless other locations.

He spends months apart from his wife Nancy, also a Red Cross volunteer; 2 years ago, they were both home in Michigan for Christmas for the first time in 10 years.

Nancy Colburn started volunteering with the Red Cross as an assistant station manager and station manager when John was the station manager at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The assistant station manager and station manager from Fort Irwin, California, were both deployed to Iraq and the Red Cross asked John to take over at Fort Irwin on very short notice, but that would leave Nellis very short handed – so Nancy applied for his position and started her Red Cross career.

The Colburns spend their off time traveling the world and gaining new experiences, but always return home to Michigan for a period before setting off on the next Red Cross adventure that will inevitably separate them while also bringing them closer to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines that they serve.

When John was in Italy, Nancy volunteered to serve in Iraq while it was still designated as a combat zone. For Red Cross volunteers, deployments are not required but Nancy felt this was something she needed to do to help people, teach people, and interact with military service members in need on a daily basis.

John and Nancy still joke about how his record number of cases in a non-combat zone is 21 in a month, while Nancy’s record number of cases is 21 in a DAY from her time in Iraq. John calls his time with the Red Cross a “pretty marvelous” experience and knows that volunteers are so important to the organization. We really couldn’t do it without dedicated volunteers like John and Nancy Colburn!


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