By Scott Koker Messenger Associate Editor
Since taking over as commander of the Miami MEPS Miami, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Kaleb Perez has strengthened the station’s partnership with the Red Cross.
Perez’s efforts over the past two years didn’t go unnoticed by the organization, which recently honored Miami MEPS with the American Red Cross Greater Miami and the Keys Partnership Award. It marked the first time Miami MEPS received the honor.
“It felt awesome for us to win the award,” Perez said. “Good things happen to good people and good organizations, and I’m super proud of our team.”
The annual award recognizes an organization that has shown commitment and passion to the Red Cross mission through its partnership and support.
Deborah Koch, executive director of American Red Cross Greater Miami and the Keys, informed Perez and Marine Corps Master Sgt. Ibrahim K. Kamara, Miami MEPS senior enlisted advisor, of the award in a June 8 email.
“We are grateful for your cooperation in helping us reach thousands of new recruits and their families with important Red Cross information right from the start of their military service,” Koch wrote. “Without a doubt, many families have been positively impacted by this partnership and have been able to get their loved ones home in times of emergencies and are able to access other emergency services as needed.”
The award was officially announced during a June 23 virtual ceremony, which included a speech by Perez.
After becoming commander of Miami MEPS in June 2018, Perez increased Red Cross’ presence during applicant processing.
“We made the Red Cross part of our DNA in terms of how we process and brief applicants,” Perez said. “Before, (Red Cross) had five minutes to talk to applicants’ parents about what they do. I gave them more time because the Red Cross has always been there supporting the military and I think it’s important for parents to understand our partnership.”
Other changes included Perez giving MEPS workers a chance to share their Red Cross experiences with parents and the addition of an informational area that features the organization’s cards, pins and flyers.
Perez credited Kamara, Army Capt. Moveta Davis, Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Taylor and MEPS civilian employees Lucky O’Connor and Angela Lewis for playing key roles in implementing the improvements.
Miami MEPS has also reaped the benefits of the partnership, including a Red Cross delivery of 350 face masks at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
“That was key to us sustaining our operations,” Perez said.
Earlier this year, Red Cross psychiatrists and counselors provided Miami MEPS assistance with communications and resilience training.
“That was probably one of the best training days we’ve had at the MEPS,” Perez said. “It was outstanding.”
Perez, who was a guest speaker at a Red Cross leadership training session for volunteers earlier this year, described the partnership as a “huge win-win situation.”
“It’s just a tremendous partnership for all the good reasons and it’s getting stronger,” he said. “It definitely made our MEPS and our people better.”
It’s important for Perez to help an organization that provided major assistance to him during a pair of family health crises.
The first occurred when Perez was deployed aboard Coast Guard Cutter Tampa in 2002.
“My dad was hospitalized in critical condition after suffering a stroke and a heart attack,” he said. “The only way for my family to contact me was through the Red Cross.
“(Red Cross) really took care of me and paid for my flight home. They go above and beyond when it comes to helping the military.”
Five years later, the Red Cross stepped up again for Perez when he was part of a transnational organized crime enforcement operation off the seas of South America.
“My wife was in the U.S. and having pregnancy complications,” he said. “The Red Cross delivered the message to me and helped me get home. I’ll never forget what they did for me and my family.
“Now I have the honor and privilege of serving in command, and the opportunity to pay the organization back.”
Red Cross liaison Jaime Cruz, left, and Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Kaleb Perez, Miami MEPS commander, pose for a photograph after Perez delivered 350 face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.