Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Project VALOUR IT: Six Degrees of Separation

Lesson 1: Things You Can Do

John at Castle Arrggh! was talking the other day about the two degrees of separation for military personnel. In otherwords, they all know somebody who knows somebody or were someplace at the same time as the other. It comes out in conversations when these men and women meet.

Mr. Thomas Macclanahan of the Kansas City Star had written an article in 2004 about Iraqi blogs and he and I exchanged a few emails about it. Particularly, Iraq the Model. I read the article and went to that blog where I met a number of very interesting people. After reading that blog, I began this blog. A short while later, I found milblogs. I met some more fantastic people at these blogs. I found out about Soldiers' Angels and made some donations.

One of the milblogs I found was From My Position. I was reading his blog in June when he was injured by an IED. Soldiers' Angels went to support Capt. Z and then provided a laptop and voice activated software. Another reader and friend of mine from the Castle decided that it would be a good idea to do this project. She solicited a great number of bloggers to help support this project (see list on side bar).

In that inevitable circular way, as I was researching who to send info to at the Star to get publicity for Project Valour IT, I saw his name on the list of Op Ed writers and decided to ask him if he would be interested in writing about our project.

I wrote him a letter that you can read by clicking on "the inner sanctum". It's long. I probably wrote too much and I hope he doesn't decide that he should put it aside to read another day, but I felt the need to give him as much info as necessary about the authenticity, originality and sincerity of Soldiers' Angels and this project. I even talked about the subject of this post; about how it was all connected in a strange way.

I just sent it to him this morning. I will be post an update every day about who I've written or talked to and whether there has been a response. I'm hoping that I get a positive response.

Already donated or can't afford to spare any cash?

Printed and On Line Media
This is one of the things that the readers of this blog can do to help support this project. You don't have much money, but want to do more? Letters are simple and take only your time, a fairly valuable item after all and it is valuable to Soldiers' Angels Project VALOUR IT. You can find your local paper online and research who handles space for charitable organizations (often provided free of cost though limited in space), contact them by phone or by letter and ask them to provide space for a small advertisement.

Have you written a letter to the editor lately?

A short letter (unlike mine) talking about people supporting the troops (may include such language as "despite the anti-war coverage by the media"; though we are non-political org, certain language may get your letter printed - if you are a member of SA, please make sure that your letter is in the format of a private citizen and not representing SA) is huge and growing. Mention Soldiers' Angels is one of many organizations and they have over 40,000 members alone. Then mention this project as an example of how people come together to support the troops. Be sure to give web addresses for both SA and Project VALOUR IT.

Another way you could segue into this subject in a letter to the editor is to talk about the other number one story, the hurricane, how the National Guard, once again comes to the rescue of our citizens, supporting us in our time of need and we should support them in all their endeavors and in their time of need. Like Soldiers' Angels, a great non profit organization that supports the troops in many ways. One such project is Project VALOUR IT. Again, web links are important.

Have you exchanged emails with a writer at a paper or a journalist at a news organization?

Feel free to write to them and ask them if they are planning to or would like to write a piece about ordinary citizens, working in the "six degrees of separation" have bonded together to support the troops. Maybe they would like to write about Project VALOUR IT and Soldiers' Angels? For these types of letters, you should send links to the information pages and provide a link or copy of the press release about this project which you can find here.

Newspapers Are Run By Corporations -
They always have space in their budget for charitable donations including costly web and print space.

To ask about getting free publicity in print or online, you should write your request to the public relations officer, phone it in or email. You should be able to find this person's information by going to any newspaper's/magazine's "contact us". They may be interested in getting their name linked with a great project like this or in simply fulfilling their obligations under their tax write offs for providing for charitable donations.

Remember that you are a representative of SA and SA is a non-political organization so don't tie that in when you're looking for PR help. Before you contact a public relations officer about providing space or other assistance for the project, make sure that you:

a) Have read the website for Project VALOUR IT thoroughly and understand what the project is about.
b) Discuss your proposition with Beth at Fuzzilicious. You can drop her an email at thelioness1234-play@yahoo.com and she'll contact you. Be sure to provide your phone number in your email so that she can get back to you promptly.
c) Understand that you are acting as a conduit and do not have the authority to make decisions about using this space and certainly cannot obligate SA for any funds to PAY for any advertising. Unless of couse you can pay for it out of your own pocket, but you would still need to get approval for content from Beth or her designated person before posting.

I know, that sounds like a lot of rules for someone asking you to help, but please keep in mind that Soldiers' Angels is very important for the support of our group and cannot afford to have issues with copyrights, misrepresentation or other legal or financial issues. And this information is designed to assist you in ways to promote the project, not hinder you in anyway because we appreciate all of your help.

Of course, you can still donate money, time and effort. Write to Beth and ask her what we need.

Stand by for Lesson 2 in how you can help Soldiers' Angels Project VALOUR IT.

Dear Mr. Mcclanahan,

I wanted to write and thank you for an editorial you did last year pointing out the Iraqi blogs. I wrote a letter last year thanking you for bringing this information to the fore, that my brother is in the military and reading those blogs helped me understand what was going on. Those blogs have been some of the best information on the status of Iraq that I could find anywhere. Several times, the Iraqi blogs have broken the news about events in that country before television or news wires and papers. The last few days, I have been able to find out about the constitution and issues from bloggers hours if not a day or two before the AP even gets a paragraph up.

From reading those blogs, I found military blogs, written by our men and women deployed around the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan (lately, a number of Afghani bloggers have joined the fray as the country's infrastructure has been built up, largely off the grid for our media here). At these blogs I met some really fantastic people and found out about great ways to support our men and women in uniform.

I joined one of these organizations, Soldiers' Angels (http://soldiersangels.org/heroes/index.php) and donated to their many projects. I really liked this organization because it had a very personal side to their support. Besides organizing "adopt a soldier" and care packages, this organization goes above and beyond the call of duty.

When a soldier is injured, after stabilization in Iraq or Afghanistan, they are sent to Landstuhl, Germany Military hospital and then on to a state side military hospital like Walter Reed and Bethesda. Some people might no be aware that, when a soldier comes to a CSH (cash - combat support hospital), their clothes are usually cut off of them. When they are shipped to Germany and then the United States, they arrive in a hospital gown. They have no personal items. No underwear, socks, tooth brush or comb. If you've ever been in a hospital, these things are not usually provided (some provide mouth wash) and the military hospitals are no better. If they are able to walk around while in Germany, the military issues them new DCUs (desert camouflage uniforms), but the soldier has to provide his or her own under things and basic necessities.

Many of the soldiers are not able to do that due to the nature of their wounds and condition so they are left bare except for a hospital gown (and we all know how much that covers). It will take several days for someone back at their duty station (Iraq or Afghanistan) to pack up and send their belongings and then several more weeks for these things to catch up with them, leaving them with nothing. Most of the time, their loved ones cannot get to where they are admitted for a day or two and some cannot stay due to family, finances or other obligations.

Soldiers' Angels is there. Literally. There are Soldiers Angels who live near these hospitals, even in Germany, and, when contacted by loved ones, they go, even in the middle of the night, and meet the wounded troops. They deliver messages of love from family and friends, they bring back packs with essentials (t-shirts, underwear, combs, deodorant, etc) and "blankets of hope" (hand sewn blankets with messages of love and gratitude) to comfort the soldiers. Sometimes they stay with the soldier all night, holding their hands and standing vigil until a loved one can make it there.

They have many other "operations" that support the troops.

Of course, there are many organizations doing their part, but this one is my favorite because it has an extra personal touch and fills a unique niche in the wide range of troop support organizations. They were recently written about in the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal (links at bottom of email)

In the article from the Washington Post, Soldiers' Angels is meeting with Capt. Charles Ziegenfuss. Capt. Ziegenfuss' blog, tcoverride.blogspot.com, was a regular read for me on my tour through the military blogs (milblogs). His wife was the first to tell us about his injuries when she posted a note on his blog. He had been severely wounded by an IED causing a lot of soft tissue, muscle and nerve damage to his arms, hands and legs, including losing his pinky and part of his hand. It was from there that Soldiers' Angels received the information and went to work.

In the article, the writer mentions that Soldiers’ Angels brought Capt. Ziegenfuss a laptop and voice activated software so that he could continue to write in his online journal. He was also able to use it to write emails to his friends and troops still deployed. Through his website he received hundreds of notes of appreciation, good wishes for recovery, words of support and comfort for both him and his family (his wife Carren was posting about their experience until he could).

His wife wrote to Soldiers’ Angels “he loves to see how many people comment when he posts.” It is” very instrumental for his healing”. Several of his readers and supporters of Soldiers’ Angels realized that there might be another distinct opportunity to help wounded troops and created Soldiers’ Angels Project VALOUR IT (Voice Activated Laptops four OUR Injured Troops). With the numbers and types of injuries the soldiers are suffering it seemed apparent that many other soldiers could benefit from this type of equipment.

This isn’t just about providing soldiers with a source of entertainment. This project is meant to be another tool in the process of recovery. As I mentioned above, many family members cannot stay with the soldiers throughout their recovery and rehabilitation due to children, employment or finances. This means that they will have to try to stay in contact and give moral support via long distance phone calls that can be very expensive though many organizations have lent a hand by providing free calling cards, but usually to the soldiers and not the family. There is also the problem of soldiers with severe hand and arm injuries, not to mention amputations and paralysis that cannot use the phone without assistance.

Voice activated laptops will allow them to have the computer at bedside and simply command the computer to write an email or use instant messaging or even have live, over the net voice chats. This will help these soldiers stay connected to their support base during their long recovery.

It will allow them to do the same with their comrades and friends still on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. This also has an important role since the experience of combat creates a unique bond through shared experiences. Many soldiers say that the only people that really understand how they feel are other soldiers that have been in combat. After a traumatic event, particularly severe injuries from combat, soldiers experience a period of anxiety due to separation from friends and usually suffer from post traumatic stress (acute stress) that may later become post traumatic stress disorder, a long term psychological problem that affects many people and soldiers each year. The National Center for PTSD indicates about 7% of the entire population may suffer from PTS or PTSD every year. Other studies indicate that up to 30% of all soldiers returning from combat may suffer from mild to acute post traumatic stress or anxiety.

Project VALOUR IT is meant to assist these soldiers by keeping them in contact with those whom they have shared the most with, can lend additional support and relieve the anxiety of separation. Many soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan have access to internet cafes or even have internet connection in their quarters. This is a much simpler way to keep in contact because of time zone differences, cost, access to phones or the limitations caused by injuries of the returned soldier.

The project also expects that the laptops will provide a sense of independence, confidence and normality by allowing the soldiers to get control of their personal affairs, like paying bills and doing online banking. They will even be able to take college courses and search for employment to prepare them for life after discharge.

Lastly, it can be a source of entertainment by allowing them to watch DVDs, play CDs or even browse the web. They can also use it to write online or offline journals as a method of self expression.

All of these things are meant to support these soldiers, improve morale and lessen the anxiety about their injuries, separation, and ability to function in a world where computers are now a common household item.

The project will also be providing the voice activated software and accessories free to soldiers discharged home with permanent disabilities impairing the use of their hands. Once loaded on the home computer and with a few devices installed around the home, the voice-activated software can be used to operate common household appliances, turn on lights and, of course, operate a computer.

Project VALOUR IT expects to provide 150 laptops and software to six military hospitals in the United States and Germany for a total of 900 computers. Several businesses have already lent their support and provided computers, software and accessories either at a discounted rate or free, however, the project is estimated to cost approximately $600,000. The project has collected a little over $10,000 through private donations and has already purchased 20 units that will be dispensed in the next seven to ten days to Walter Reed and Bethesda.

My apologies for running on about this project, but I am very passionate about supporting our troops in every way, from deployment to return. This evening, I was exploring ways to promote the project, particularly, how to bring this to the attention of our local press. As I was searching the Kansas City Star site for information about who to contact, I saw your name on the list of opinion columnists and remembered your editorial about the Iraqi blogs and our subsequent exchange of emails. I thought, no I hoped, that you might be interested in writing about how, despite the news coverage of the anti-war groups, there are organizations, their thousands of members and donors (maybe millions counting all organizations), like Soldiers Angels who go on supporting the troops actively, quietly and in every way possible.

Of course, if you do write about Soldiers’ Angels, I am hoping that you will mention this special project (Project VALOUR IT) and how, through one editorial you wrote over a year ago, a local citizen became connected to this project.

I want to thank you again for the editorial about the blogs and giving me the opportunity to meet such great people.

Kathleen Henry
6210 NE Antioch Rd
Gladstone, MO 64119

Links to information and articles

Soldiers’ Angels
Soldiers’ Angels Germany
Wall Street Journal Article http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/dhenninger/?id=110007167
Washington Post Article
Capt. Ziegenfuss’ blog
Capt. Z talks about getting the laptop and software
Capt. Z photo using laptop and voice activated software (note hand that is raised is missing a pinky and part of the hand; he is still in rehab to gain full use of the hand)
Recorded interview with Captain Z at Soldiers’ Angels blog

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