Turbulence shapes pilot into supersonic volunteer
Story by Craig Dirkes, writer/photographer for The Salvation Army Northern Division
Salvation Army volunteer Randy Hamilton always wanted to be a pilot, ever since he was a boy growing up on his family’s farm in Missouri.
“Our farm was on the approach path to Kansas City,” Hamilton recalled. “I’d lay on my back and watch the airplanes.”
He launched his flying career at age 21 when he became an aviator for the U.S. Navy. For 25 years he flew military aircraft in countries all over the world.
“Japan. Saudi Arabia. Thailand. Iraq. Iran. Europe. Alaska. Everywhere,” said Hamilton, 67, who retired from the military in 1994. He ended his military service commanding a squadron of C-2 Greyhound airplanes flying aboard aircraft carriers in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea (watch a landing).
He went on to become a commercial pilot for the next two decades, and now he’s an airline flight instructor.
Hamilton is also a dedicated Salvation Army volunteer. He serves at the West 7th Salvation Army in St. Paul, lifting the spirits of hundreds of people who need help finding solid ground.
He logs two eight-hour volunteer shifts per week, including Fridays, when he coordinates a fresh-food distribution called Friday Food Fair (pictured). Up to 200 people in need come for fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and other perishables, all free of charge.
“Those 200 people average about four people per household,” Hamilton said. “So that’s 800 people we’re touching every Friday morning.”
He started volunteering seven years ago in response to a turbulent time in his life.
“There was a life-changing incident,” Hamilton explained. “I was changed, but I didn’t know who I was changed into. I (began volunteering) to help me reestablish my identity.”
He now knows who he is: a servant of God.
“I (volunteer) to witness to Christ,” Hamilton said. “It’s about serving Him and glorifying Him. It is not about me.”
Volunteering at The Salvation Army has touched Hamilton so deeply that in 2014 he went back to college for a master’s degree in Christian counseling, which he obtained in late 2016. Ever since, he’s been using the degree at The Salvation Army to help men and women find jobs, set and achieve goals, improve their emotional and spiritual health, and more.
“I act as a friend who is trained in counseling,” said Hamilton. “Some of these people don’t have many friends. So I help them make the right choices and then walk with them through it.”
Example: On the day Hamilton was interviewed for this story, his next appointment was to meet with a man with an outstanding warrant. The two had been meeting regularly for a period of time, and through their discussions, they determined that the man could not reach his goals with the warrant still hanging over his head. As such, Hamilton was planning to escort the man as he turned himself in to authorities that afternoon. If and when the man ended up in jail, Hamilton planned to visit him about once a week.
“It’s very humbling to be able to give,” Hamilton said. “These are humans with dignity. They don’t need somebody to judge them. They need somebody to listen.”
Prior to volunteering for The Salvation Army, Hamilton knew next to nothing about the organization.
“I knew the name and that they helped people, but that’s it,” he said.
He has since developed an abundance of positive relationships at The Salvation Army – not only with the people he serves, but with the staff and volunteers he serves alongside.
“That’s the wonderful thing about being here – there isn’t anybody who doesn’t love and care about people,” Hamilton said. “We’re all in it for the same reason.”
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