Back on Memorial Day I put up a list of worthy charities and invited you to contribute to whatever charity met your particular criteria. I chose Soldier’s Angels, based on what I’d heard and read about them. I’m glad I did.
The guest of honor at this year’s Gunblogger’s Rendezvous was Maj. Chuck Ziegenfuss. Major (then Capt.) Ziegenfuss was commander of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor in Iraq when he was the victim of an IED in June of 2005. The Major was also a blogger, and still is, running From My Position… On the Way!, so many of us knew about his story, but not much of the details. After our dinner, Maj. Ziegenfuss gave us those details of his experience of being essentially blown to pieces by a buried 80mm mortar round, the reaction of his men, the trip home, and the ongoing recovery from his injuries. I am not going to relate it here, because that’s not what this post is about.
This post is about Soldier’s Angels and Project Valour-IT.
When Chuck woke up in Walter Reed, a woman was in his room, a woman that was not his wife. A woman that he didn’t know. That woman was Kathleen Bair, a Soldier’s Angels volunteer who made sure that someone was with him when he woke up, and that someone stayed with him until his wife could arrive. Kathleen did anything she was asked within the realm of possibility – no forms to fill out, no red tape, no idiotic questions. When Chuck said that he’d like to have a laptop so he could continue blogging, Kathleen called him from her home that night. She was on eBay, bidding on a used laptop. Would the unit she was bidding on meet his needs?
As Chuck explained, he was loaded to the eyeballs on painkillers at the time. Anything sounded fine. As it turned out, the laptop was fine. It was Chuck that out of spec. As he explained it, the explosion had mangled his left hand, severing his pinky finger and damaging nerves. His right hand had been shielded from the blast, mostly, by his M4 carbine, but that thumb had been blown off and lodged in his thigh. The reattachment surgery had gone well, but he had only one functioning finger at the time. This brought “hunt and peck” to an entirely new level.
Chuck knew about Dragon Naturally Speaking speech-recognition software, and asked his readers – slowly and painstakingly – for a copy. He got one overnight via his Amazon.com wishlist. A few minutes spent loading and then “training” the software to his voice, and he was high-speed, low-drag blogging again.
As he explained during is talk to us, that’s when inspiration struck. How many people actually write anymore? During WWII, Korea, even Vietnam, “candy-stripers” or Red Cross volunteers used to go around VA hospitals to write letters for wounded soldiers by dictation. Not any more. And when was the last time a soldier actually wrote a letter on paper? The media was electronic now. Email, instant-messaging, blogging, chatrooms, bulletin boards were all the ways the modern soldier communicated with friends and family. Something else Chuck noticed: when he was online, either reading or writing, he tended not to notice the pain of his injuries. He even asked to have the level of his medication reduced so that it didn’t affect his mental state as much.
There is, he explained, a fine line between “enough” pain meds and “too much.” Too much medication does keep the patient comfortable, but it slows the healing process. Too little medication leaves the patient in such pain that again, healing is slowed. But when all you have to do is lay in bed and watch four channels of bad TV or read a six-month old magazine for the fifth time, your pain tends to occupy your thoughts.
But not when your mind is engaged in something interesting.
Chuck’s epiphany was that there must be other soldiers – many of them – injured like he was who could use a laptop with speech-recognition software to access the internet. He discussed it with Kathleen Bair and another blogger he corresponded with, and Project Valour-IT was born as a subsidiary of Soldier’s Angels. The project recently gave out its 2,000th laptop. Through the donations of just the few of us who came to the Rendezvous, we collected enough money to provide another laptop for an injured soldier.
So here’s the deal: Last year a competition was put on to raise money for this very worthy cause. Money was raised in the name of each of the branches of the armed forces, though the money all goes in the same pot, and it makes no difference which branch a wounded soldier belongs to when it comes to receiving a laptop. It’s strictly for bragging rights.
The competition for this year is now open. The target for each branch is $60k, and the first one to meet it, wins.
(BTW, the Navy won last year.)
Project Valour-IT isn’t going to get a $1.4m windfall from Rush Limbaugh, and I doubt seriously Harry Reid will try to polish his reputation by being a donor, but I’m asking my readers to pony up whatever they can spare. This is a tax-deductible donation to a cause you know is good, and to a cause where 70% of the money you give isn’t used to cover “overhead.”
Since I got back from the Rendezvous I put up a Soldier’s Angels link on the sidebar. Tonight I’m adding a Project Valour-IT link as well.
If you support the troops, please help support these troops.
UPDATE: Excellent post on the fundraiser competition at Argghhh!