Soldiers donate time to save lives

Sgt. 1st Class Kerrilee Case signs as a witness on a cadet’s bone marrow donor consent form during the American Red Cross’s Cadet Summer Training Blood Drive at Smith Fitness Center in Fort Knox.

A little after 7 a.m. July 12, Sgt. 1st Class Scotty Case and his wife, Sgt. 1st Class Kerrilee Case, were busy unpacking and setting up their table and supplies for a bone marrow registration drive in Smith Gym in Fort Knox.

The Cases, 1st Theater Sus­tain­ment Command soldiers, serve as program representatives for Fort Knox’s C. W. Bill Young De­partment of Defense Marrow Do­­nor Program, otherwise known as Salute to Life.

In the U.S. alone, more than 17,000 people are diagnosed with a disease that requires a bone marrow transplant. Only 70 percent of patients find a match from within their own family, according to the Salute to Life website. Patients who can’t find a match in their own family rely on the national registry, which contains donors recruited through Salute to Life. However, only one in 420 people find a match from an unrelated donor.

These statistics are what drive the Cases to dedicate as much of their personal time as they can to finding as many healthy donors as possible through Salute to Life.

“I know if it was my child or my husband or my mom or someone close to me who needed to receive bone marrow, I would want them to do it,” Kerrilee said.

She said donating time to help others is just part of who she is.

In April 2019, Kerrilee was awarded the Military Volunteer of the Year award for Fort Knox. In addition to volunteering for Salute to Life, she also donates her time to several other organizations, including the Sergeant Audie Murphy Association and Habitat for Humanity.

She became involved in the Salute to Life Program after she was recruited by the last program representative who left in 2018.

“I had gotten a message from the previous recruiter asking if I would like to take over,” Kerrilee said. “She found me through the Sergeant Audie Murphy Association.”

She began learning the posi­tion in October 2018 and her hus­band joined her in February.

“We’re best friends and do everything together anyway, so it’s just natural for us,” said Kerrilee, when asked about what it’s like to work together and volunteer together.

Scotty said initially he began volunteering for the program because of his wife but he continues because he sees the importance of it.

“She just likes to volunteer, so I just jump in there and do it with her,” he said. “I’m also doing it because I could potentially save a life.”

Since February, the Cases both have contributed 40 hours of their time to the program.

A lot of time goes into planning and preparing for each event. They have to ensure they have all the supplies needed – tables, pens, registration kits, pop-up displays and brochures. Then, after the event, they have to pack up all the supplies and drive to FedEx to ship the completed registration kits.

Scotty said they also have coordinated with reserve commands to set up a registry table on drill weekends.

“We did it on a Saturday mor­n­ing when a reserve unit was dril­ling. We just put our uniform on and did it for three or four hours on a Saturday,” he said.

They recently set up their Salute to Life booth at an Amer­ican Red Cross Cadet Summer Train­ing Blood Drive, where they were able to speak to hundreds of cadets about the program. That particular day, they col­lected 147 bone marrow re­gis­tra­tion kits.

Drew Hester, a cadet from Eastern Illinois University, said he registered to be a bone marrow donor as a way of giving back to the Army.

“I feel like I’ve still got a few more years before I can do anything for the Army, so I feel like this is something I can do now to help out,” Hester said. “And if there’s like a 3-year-old who needs my bone marrow, then this is the least I can do to give back.”

Registration drives such as the one held earlier this month with cadets are the best way to reach large sums of potential donors.

Chad Ballance, a recruiter for Salute to Life, said the Cases have been reliable and passionate volunteers.

“Our program can’t really exist without leaders like this,” Ballance said. “They’re stepping up and saying, ‘hey I’m passionate about this, I want to make a difference.’ I’m very impressed about what we foresee to happen at Fort Knox.”

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