September 18, 2014  

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Red Cross to Honor Local Military Veterans July 24 at Cochran Center

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The American Red Cross South Mississippi Chapter will honor four Pine Belt-area veterans for their service to country and community at the second annual Stars and Stripes: Salute to the Military on Thursday, July 24, from 6-10 p.m., at The University of Southern Mississippi Thad Cochran Center Ballroom on the Hattiesburg campus.

The honorees, selected from a pool of nominees, include retired Col. Sheila Varnado, U.S. Army; retired Lt. Col. Raylawni Branch, U.S. Air Force Reserve; retired Lt. Col. Fred Varnado, U.S. Army; and former Staff Sgt. Steven Effa, U.S. Air Force.

The keynote address will be given by retired Army Maj. Gen. Buford “Buff” Blount, III, a Southern Miss alumnus. WDAM News Anchor Mike McDaniel will serve as emcee. The evening will also feature entertainment by Rewind featuring Lady Patrice and a silent auction. Several local restaurants will be on hand serving tastings of their favorite menu items.

Tickets are $50 each and may be purchased at the Red Cross office located at 2020 Hardy Street or by calling 601.582.8151. Reserved tables and half-tables are available and include special recognition as an event sponsor and a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) partner. Tables of 10 are $1000; half-tables of five are $500. For table reservations call 228.896.3146 or email jay.huffstatler@redcross.org.

Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) is one of five Red Cross lines of service. To learn more about how Red Cross supports our military, visit http://www.redcross.org/mississippi/programs/service-to-the-armed-forces and http://www.redcross.org/what-we-do/support-military-families .

About the honorees:

*Col. Sheila Varnado retired from the Army in 2004 after completing a 27-year active duty career. She received the Bronze Star Medal for her wartime service during Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. Upon her retirement she returned to Hattiesburg where she continues to serve others through her civic and community activities. She serves on the board of directors for the Area Development Partnership, the Mississippi Main Street Association and has served for the past five years as the president of the African-American Military History Museum Committee at the Historic East 6th Street USO.  After Hurricane Katrina, she joined the United Way of Southeast Mississippi to develop and manage a long-term recovery program called R3SM, Inc. (Recover, Rebuild, Restore Southeast Mississippi), which she lead as executive director from March 2008 to January 2014. She has also served on the editorial board for The Hattiesburg American and the advisory boards for the Center for Nonprofits at Southern Miss, the Spirit of Women at Forrest General Hospital, the Greater Pine Belt Community Foundation, and the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association.

*Hattiesburg native Raylawni Branch is a professional nursing educator, U.S. Air Force Reserve officer, and a lauded Mississippi pioneer of the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968). She was publicly recognized during the Pedestrian Plaza dedication ceremony at Southern Miss for her pivotal role in the integration of the school in 1965. In the early 1960s, Branch served as secretary of the Forrest County NAACP and an active member of the Council of Federated Organizations. After joining the Air Force Reserve in 1975, she rose in the ranks to lieutenant colonel; she retired in 1998 after more than 20 years of service. After returning to Hattiesburg in the late 1980s, she completed her Master's Degree in Community Health Nursing from USM, where she later served as a nursing instructor until her retirement in 2004. She also served as nurse coordinator for the former South Central Mississippi Chapter of the Red Cross.

*Fred Varnado currently serves as the director of the Office of Professional Development and Educational Outreach at the University of Southern Mississippi. After his commissioning as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps in 1975, he actively served the country over the next 20 years in various leadership and staff positions, both in and outside of the continental U.S. In 1995, he retired from the Army after successfully commanding the 731st Military Intelligence Battalion in Hawaii. He is a 2007 graduate of the Mississippi Economic Council’s highly-selective Leadership Mississippi program, has served on the editorial board for The Hattiesburg American, and served with the Hattiesburg Public School District Drop-out Prevention Task Force. He is the Secretary of the African-American Military History Museum Committee and is currently serving a 5-year term on the Hattiesburg-Laurel Airport Authority’s Board of Commissioners.

*Steve Effa is the Maintenance and Facilities leader at GE Aviation Ellisville in addition to overseeing security, shipping, receiving, and GE’s Health Ahead Program. He is the executive champion for GE Ellisville’s Military and Veteran’s Council, and led the site’s Family Day. Working along with GE Corporate and Affiliate offices, Effa led the construction of the site, directing the activities of the general contractor. He has worked in partnership with local community organizations such as the Jones County Economic Development Authority, the South Central Regional Medical Center (SCRMC), the Jones County American Heart Association ELT, and the March of Dimes. Effa was Honorably Discharged from the U.S. Air Force as a Staff Sergeant after nine years of service. While in the Air Force, he served in the Middle East, Europe, East Asia, Africa, South America, and the U.S.

About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross Mississippi Region shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters, supports the supply of about 40 percent of the nation’s blood, teaches skills that save lives, provides international humanitarian aid and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, visit redcross.org/mississippi, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @RedCrossMiss.