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Marine vet-turned-reservist manages American Red Cross disaster response

Jun. 9, 2014 - 12:23PM   |  
MGNL Clayton Kolb MWM 20140417
Navy Reserve Lt. Clayton Kolb is senior director of disaster resource support and coordination for the American Red Cross. (Mike Morones/Staff)
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When floods devastated Colorado last fall, the Red Cross mobilized in force. More than 830 workers provided food, shelter, relief supplies and emotional support. The agency served more than 87,000 meals and helped to provide more than 111,000 relief items.

Although he works in Washington, D.C., Clayton Kolb was smack in the middle of it all. “As they were standing up that operation, bringing people and resources from all over the country, my job was to make sure that all of that was coordinated from the national level,” Kolb said.

A former Marine Corps corporal and current Navy Reserve lieutenant, Kolb said his ability to manage logistics on such a scale stems directly from his military training. He’s put that experience to work in a job he loves as America Red Cross senior director of disaster resource support and coordination.

How he got here

Kolb’s career trajectory began straight out of high school in 1996, when he enlisted and served four years in the infantry as a small boat coxswain. Then he hit the books — hard — first at the University of Florida and then at Rockefeller College in Albany, New York, earning a pair of master’s degrees, one in history, the other in public policy.

Kolb leaned on his military background to launch his career, pairing a passion for service with his advanced education. His first stop was a stint with New York State government in the homeland security office, doing a combination of policy work and intelligence operations. He jumped to the Red Cross in 2007, attracted by that same spirit of service, and moved through several positions before taking on his present role in mid-2013.

What it's about

There’s an intensity in Kolb’s work today that harkens back to his active-duty experience. Look again at the Colorado flooding.

“The scalability and the urgency are a big challenge. We put all these people in the pipeline to come and help out, and we need to get them on airplanes and be ready to give up two or three weeks of their lives,” he said.

“So we need to make sure we are being good stewards of that donated time, coordinating between here in D.C. and with the leadership in the field to make sure everyone’s efforts are right-sized [so] our volunteers are having a meaningful experience.”

And just like in the military, it all must be done in an environment of constrained resources.

Success here means being organized and getting others organized. Kolb convenes with internal leadership, communicates the mission out to operations leaders in the field, coordinates with executives at the division level and facilitates contacts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“In the course of a day, it can be eight conference calls with eight different stakeholders,” he said.

It’s not the kind of job that can easily be left at the office. As the lead aid agency on many disasters, the Red Cross is always in standby mode.

“When I turn on the TV and see these things, my Blackberry is typically going off at the same time. I’m immediately thinking through what we need to do nationally and also what they may be doing on the ground. I need start to put those puzzle pieces together right away,” he said.

Still serving

In the midst of all this, Kolb still finds the time and the will to do his training and service time in the Reserve.

“I am a service-oriented person, and I had been feeling a pull to go back in ever since 9/11. I felt like I could do more,” he said. “A friend had told me about the reserves, and it sounded like it would be the right fit — that there would be challenges to make use of my maturing mental capacity.”

Just as the Reserve fulfills his desire to serve, his work with the Red Cross allows him to serve the greater good.

“There is a seamless connection between the Red Cross and the military, with the mission focus and the service philosophy,” he said. “One of the things you learn very quickly at Parris Island is to take a lot of responsibility at a really young age. I think that really shaped how I lead. It’s a temperament that translates really well to what I do today. I tend to not get really worked up in disasters, and I got a lot of that from the Marines.”

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