Spouse of Navy Operation’s Specialist 1st Class Don Hand
Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 2, Portsmouth
At the age of 12, growing up in Edmond, Okla., as the eldest of five girls, Samantha “Sam” Hand was on a mission. She and her sisters wanted to be lifeguards when they were teenagers. But at the time, the first slots in the Red Cross certification course were given to Boy Scouts. So the girls had to find a way to be considered scouts.
Her mother had been writing a book with a Red Cross youth group coordinator, and Sam found out that by participating in the program, she and her sisters could take basic aid courses each summer and be members of the Youth Disaster Action Team. Once they were part of the team, they asked the Red Cross to turn it into a co-ed High Adventure Explorer Post, which qualified them as scouts and enabled them to get in the lifeguard course.
“We couldn’t wait to turn 15,” Sam remembered enthusiastically. “We certified in all the courses before then, and then at 15, when we youth volunteers, we taught younger scouts and school kids the basic aid courses. We helped troubled youth and through the Youth Disaster Action Team, we went to annual national conventions to speak about being a youth volunteer.”
Sam went on to be the Disaster Action Team assistant coordinator, and was a national American Red Cross disaster responder during the St. Joseph, Mo., floods in 1984, among many other volunteer efforts in her home state. She continued that work, even while she completed her political science degree at Oklahoma State University, where she met her husband, Navy Operation’s Specialist 1st Class Don Hand, now a member of Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 2 in Portsmouth.
“We knew each other in college, but were just friends and had gone our separate ways,” Sam said. “He called me when he came back to Oklahoma for a visit after the Gulf War, and our friendship blossomed from there. One night, he proposed. He said, ‘I’m so tired of eating mac ‘n cheese alone. Will you and Chloe (Sam’s daughter) marry me?’”
Sam has spent the 15 years they have been married continuing her dedication to volunteer work in the communities where he has been stationed. Right away, she was active in church summer camping and youth programs. But her volunteer efforts with the Navy started with an unfortunate event two years later. She was diagnosed with cancer while her husband was deployed aboard USS Philippine Sea (CG 58).
“When I was diagnosed, I hadn’t linked in with the command yet, but I had the ombudsman’s phone number in my wallet,” Sam said. “She talked on the phone with me and my doctor and contacted the ship to get my husband flown home.”
At the time, Sam was four months pregnant with her youngest child and had surgery one week after the diagnosis. Hand was able to come home for two weeks.
“Members of the family readiness group called me every day and helped us when we needed it,” Sam recalled. “They gave me little assignments to get me involved and make me feel like part of the team, even though I could barely move. When it was all over, I told the ombudsman how much it meant to me what she did to support me and that I could never repay her. She responded with, ‘oh yes, you can, here’s your letter to designate you as a command ombudsman.’”
After that, Sam served as ombudsman for USS Russell (DDG 59) in Hawaii, and attended ombudsman training school so she could train others. She volunteered with the Red Cross and the YMCA during his assignment at Wallops Island in Maryland, and later became the ombudsman for Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 4 in Portsmouth.
After Hand transferred from Squadron 4 to Squadron 2, Sam became the ombudsman for Navy Expeditionary Combat Command in Portsmouth, the parent command for the squadrons, where she developed a new Family Readiness Group (FRG).
Her latest efforts have led to the development of a newsletter to educate and empower the families of 41,000 members of the “Boots on the Ground” Navy, and the development of a symposium for all FRG leaders and command ombudsman. Her goal is to get all volunteers together to share lessons learned and success stories. It is scheduled for June at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek.
Sam’s current civilian volunteer job is as the aquatics director of Girls, Inc., in Portsmouth, where she has spent the past two years teaching swimming and lifeguarding and promoting community involvement.
With such a constant demand for her time, Sam had faced challenges in balancing volunteering in the civilian and Navy communities with raising her three children, Chloe, 20, Joseph, 14, and Gordon, 12.
“One of the biggest challenges I face in balancing my family life is making sure my kids like what we are doing,” Sam said. “This is not just for me. My kids are my priority. My parents taught me to be active in the community, and I am trying to pass that along to my kids.”