Veterans have played important roles in Heart to Heart International since the very beginning, and you can find veterans in every aspect of our organization. We wanted to take the time on Veterans Day to highlight just a few of the amazing veterans we call our own. Read on to learn a little bit about some of our veterans:
Dr. Gary Morsch, Co-Founder, Chairman & President Emeritus
Before Dr. Gary Morsch began serving people in need through the founding of Heart to Heart International, he was serving our country as a member of the armed services. Gary Morsch began his military career at the age of 17 enlisting in the Army during the Vietnam War serving as a distinguished member of the Infantry & Artillery OCS from 1969- 1971. His own life-long commitment to volunteerism has taken him literally around the world, and in 1992, Colonel Morsch’s vision and energy helped found Heart to Heart International. In 1993 Colonel Morsch became a commissioned officer in the U. S. Army Reserve Medical Corps serving in the 313th Surgical Hospital. In 1997 Colonel Morsch was honored by the U.S. State Department and First Lady Hillary Clinton at Operation Provide Hope’s 500th Airlift at Andrews AFB. He served in Iraq, Kosovo, and Germany. He retired in 2012 after serving 21 years. His last position before retirement was Colonel/Commander of the 325th CSH in Independence.
Alton Hagen, HHI volunteer
In June of 1969 I celebrated(?) my 19th birthday at Fort Campbell, KY being taught by a couple of Army Drill Sergeants how to inflict grievous bodily harm on an enemy in hand to hand combat.
It was the height of the Vietnam War, and I wasn’t bright enough to retain my educational draft deferment. (OK…. I discovered the fun side of college life and it cost me.)
I decided to enlist in the Army for three years with my choice of training rather than wait to be drafted for a two year stint where the odds were very high I would end up as a combat infantryman – a role I wasn’t eager to play. My 3 year enlistment guaranteed I would attend Military Police training, although it was up to me to successfully complete that course – which I did.
Following a few months MP duty at Continental Army Command Headquarters in Fort Monroe, VA, on April Fool’s Day of 1970, (no kidding), I received orders reassigning me to an MP unit in Germany (instead of to Vietnam as I had been anticipating).
After a handful of months with that MP company based near Stuttgart, I volunteered and was accepted to join a small office of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) as an Investigator on temporary duty status.
Then, about six months into my time with the CID unit, the commanding officer in München decided to loan me out to a Kriminalpolizei / Kripo (Criminal Police) unit in Stuttgart to work undercover in their anti-drug efforts. For the year plus remainder of my time in service I lived in an off-post apartment in a small German village not far from Stuttgart, while wearing civilian (hippie) cloths, long hair and a scraggly beard.
Unfortunately, that work, and the drug dealer façade I had to maintain, didn’t really allow me to have any close friends or acquaintances.
That experience of living and working in a foreign country, with minimal outside support or command of the language, combined with a very close brush with death from an auto accident during that time period, inadvertently determined the rest of my life.
The ability and confidence I developed to be on my own contributed to a post-military career that resulted in my traveling to the far corners of the world. I actually lived out of a couple suitcases for more than five straight years without a home, apartment, car, etc. And that travel taught me just how incredibly fortunate I am to have been born and raised in a country with health care and educational opportunities.
It also made me feel somewhat guilty: Why wasn’t I born in a country where life expectancy is under 45 years and where 1 child in 6 won’t live to see their 5th birthday? Why am I able to live in a house where the living room is larger than an entire house I visited in rural China which was home to 3 generations? Why was I able to achieve an education while others in this world have to forgo school to start working at the age of 6 or 7 to help support their family?
In other words “I’ve been too blessed not to try and help, even in a small way, those less fortunate than I through no fault of their own other than an accident of birth.”
So, my military experience is the primary reason I’m involved with Heart To Heart plus a few other organizations that focus on lending a helping hand to those who need it. And one of the cool things about Heart To Heart is all of the volunteers I’ve met are singing from the same sheet of music I am.
Rich and Dee Zak, Heart to Heart International Volunteers
Dee Zak and a nursing friend joined the Army to see the world and served at Fort Campbell, KY. During that time, she deployed on a Return of Forces to Germany (REFORGER) exercise where she worked in a real MASH unit and did actual surgery in the field.
Rich Zak was in the Infantry and served in the 25th Infantry Division, 101st Airborne Division, and 26th Infantry Regiment. A highlight of his service was going to Poland for 6 months shortly after the Berlin Wall fell to help forge partnerships with a military that had been behind the Iron Curtain.
Rich and Dee volunteer at HHI because, just like when they were in the service, it gives them the privilege of making a small contribution to something that is much bigger than themselves.
Dr. Rick Randolph, Chief Medical Officer, HHI
Happenstance? No way, says Rick Randolph: As an Army National Guard doctor stationed near Ashraf, Iraq, in 2004, he meets the only other physician there—Gary Morsch. “Imagine, two Johnson County family physicians, who had never before met each other, meet as the only two physicians in a very strange post near the Iranian border,” Randolph muses. “I don’t believe that it was mere coincidence.
That’s how Randolph would eventually become chief medical officer for Heart to Heart International, the nonprofit Morsch founded to provide health care and humanitarian aid to the poor around the world.
Randolph spent 26 years in US Army and retired as a Colonel. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1976 and was initially branched in the Field Artillery then in the Medical Corps. He served in Germany (1st Squadron 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and 2/28 Field Artillery), but left active duty to take his medical school prerequisites and then attend medical school. Randolph returned to active duty at Fort Bragg for Family Practice residency, deploying with 82nd Airborne Division and the Joint Special Operations Command while in residency. He served a dual assignment as Chief of the Primary Care Service and as a Trauma Resuscitator with the Joint Special Operations Command for 3 years. He served for 2 years as the Group Surgeon for the 3rd Special Forces Group. After leaving active duty again, He spent 10 years in the Medical Detachment of the Kansas Army National Guard and served twice in the Middle East (Operation Dessert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom).
“I have been blessed to use my military experience in Heart to Heart International when I work in austere environments and when I function in leadership positions and develop operational plans. The military background and experience helps me to function ‘at the top of my license’. “
Heather Lee – Director, Disaster Response, HHI
“I am grateful for my time in the military because it exposed me to challenging leadership roles at a young age. There were times in my military career, especially while deployed when I had to make a decision quickly based on the knowledge at hand. I draw back to these experiences all the time while in the field for a disaster.
I was afraid I would miss the camaraderie of the military, but I have been so inspired by the professionalism and perspectives of other humanitarian workers. I am so thankful that HHI has given me the opportunity to have new and fulfilling shared experiences.”
Bob Lambrechts, Chairman, Board of Directors, HHI
US Navy Reserve Officer, retired on August 1, 2018 at rank of Commander (LT Col in other services) with 28 years of service. His “designator” was as an “engineering duty officer.”
Sea tours aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73) and salvage vessel USS Reclaimer (ARS-42). Four command tours of reserve units to include a submarine repair unit, a communications unit and two NAVSEA tours. NAVSEA builds, buys and maintains the Navy’s ships and submarines and their combat systems.
“My time in the service did shape me in ways that I probably do not even know. I greatly enjoyed my time as a Reserve Officer and I consider it to be an incredible gift that this country gave me the opportunity to wear the uniform of a US Navy Officer. I immensely enjoyed service to nation and believe that has carried over into my desire to serve in some capacity with HHI. The former CEO of HHI (Andre Butler) and I served together in the Navy Reserve, and that is how I became connected with Heart to Heart International.”
Eddie Meyer, full-time volunteer
Eddie Meyer is a U.S. Air Force veteran who now volunteers full-time on staff where she oversees volunteer groups, processes and sorts items for hygiene kits, and sets up and helps run hygiene kit assembly events.
Charles McDonald, Laboratory Manager, HHI
1990 – 1994 United States Marine Corps Reserve; Active Duty during Desert Shield/Storm; Final Rank Corporal
Lee A. Norman, MD, MHS, MBA, Board Member Emeritus
Lee A. Norman, MD, is the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), appointed by Governor Laura Kelly.
Norman received his medical degree from the University of Minnesota, did his residency in family medicine in Texas and his aerospace medicine training in the United States Air Force at Brooks AFB in San Antonio. After serving in the USAF as a family physician, flight surgeon, and combat medicine instructor, he practiced medicine in Seattle for 20 years, also serving as clinical associate professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Dr. Norman has served as a chief medical office for over 26 years, most recently at the University of Kansas Health System and before that the Swedish Health System in Seattle, beginning in 1991. Norman has served on the governing board of Heart to Heart International.
In his military role, Norman is a colonel in the Kansas Army National Guard, stationed at Joint Forces Headquarters in Topeka, Kansas, reporting to the State of Kansas Adjutant General. COL Norman, as the State Surgeon of Kansas, guides medical troop sustainment and training, health services support, force health protection, biosecurity, and serves as advisor and liaison to the Kansas Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. He is an advisor to the Kansas Intelligence Fusion Center. In 2018 he returned from a Middle East US Army deployment where he was the 35th Infantry Division Surgeon. In this role he was the senior medical commander over 12,000 U.S. soldiers encompassing three named operations – Freedom Sentinel, Spartan Shield and Inherent Resolve.
Additionally, Norman serves on the Defense Health Board as an advisor to the U.S: Secretary of Defense.