Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Angelic Credit Card from USAA


Soldiers' Angels is thrilled to announce a formal relationship with USAA that will allow their members to support Soldiers' Angels through the credit card they choose...

USAA Bank Launches Alliance with Soldiers’ Angels 
USAA named exclusive credit card provider 
SAN ANTONIO – USAA Bank and Soldiers’ Angels are introducing a customized credit card for approximately 86,000 veterans, wounded and deployed service members, and their families.
USAA Bank now offers the Soldiers’ Angels USAA Rewards™ World MasterCard® credit card to help support the group’s programs and activities. USAA Bank will make a contribution to Soldiers’ Angels with every account opened or renewed, and each time cardholders make an eligible purchase.
“Year after year, USAA has shown its commitment to going above and beyond for military members and veterans, and so has Soldiers’ Angels,” said Patti Patton-Bader, founder of Soldiers’ Angels. “We are pleased to announce our relationship with USAA, and I am thrilled to welcome them to the Soldiers’ Angels family.”
“We are honored to be working with Soldiers’ Angels,” said Nathan McKinley, USAA vice president of military affinity. “Soldiers' Angels has done a lot over the years for deployed soldiers and their families, including tens of thousands of care packages. I’m optimistic that this new program will assist in generating additional support, and USAA certainly appreciates the many contributions Soldiers' Angels makes for our country.”
In 2009, USAA opened its membership to all veterans who have honorably served and their eligible family members. To learn more about the USAA and Soldiers’ Angels credit card program, call 1-800-531-7148 or visit usaa.com/soldiersangels.
About Soldiers’ Angels 
Since 2003, Soldiers’ Angels has been an ensign of advocacy and support for our nation’s men and women in uniform, veterans and their families. Their motto, “May No Soldier Go Unloved,” captures the energy that motivates hundreds of thousands of volunteers – the Soldiers’ Angels. Join them as they give wings to their work, and help them show our heroes a level of gratitude that is befitting of our great country. To learn more, visit soldiersangels.org.
About USAA 
USAA provides insurance, banking, investment and retirement products and services to 9.1 million members of the U.S. military and their families. Known for its legendary commitment to its members, USAA is consistently recognized for outstanding service, employee well-being and financial strength.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Valour-IT: Progress & Continuing Need


Good news and bad news on the Valour-IT front:
Thanks to the generous donors who have participated in the 2012 Valour-IT fundraising competition, another 30 laptops are headed out the door to wounded heroes in the San Antonio area who need them!
However, there are 56 more people nationwide still waiting for a laptop.  They need a laptop to reconnect with their world and gain a bit more control of their environment as they face the long-term results of their sacrificial service to this country.  
With the lethality and sophistication of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) used against coalition troops in Afghanistan markedly increased this year, Valour-IT is needed more than ever--wounded warriors who have lost two or three limbs are not nearly as rare as they used to be.  
Project Valour-IT is more powerful than words can truly explain.  A wounded warrior who is coping with the catastrophic rearrangement of his body and his psyche needs the familiar reassurance of doing something he could do before--surfing the web, controlling a piece of his environment, and reconnecting with his support system.  Putting a voice-controlled laptop in front of a wounded hero gives him back a piece of his life and hope for the future that he WILL do what he did before, even if he has to do a it a bit differently, now.
Words are vital--they soothe the battered heart and soul... but Valour-IT goes further.  The gift of a laptop is not just warm feelings and needed reassurance of support; it's a powerful tool handed to a hero by dozens of Americans who gave what they could, did what they could when they could do nothing else.   It's a physical proof of two things: "We're here for you, and you are still a part of our world."
Please give what you can by clicking a "Donate" button, do what you can by emailing a friend or sharing it on Facebook with a  personal comment.   Don't forget to check with your employer about matching funds, too!
Together we can reach out to these heroes at the most difficult times in their lives, offering them a true hand up to the new life they are struggling to construct.  They have sacrificed pieces of themselves for us.  Can we sacrifice a few dollars for them?

Saturday, August 04, 2012

An iPad for Chris


Thanks to the generous donors giving what they can in the Valour-IT Fundraising Competition, wounded Air Force Tech Sergeant Chris Barker received an iPad from Soldiers' Angels this week.  
Chris' wounds are hidden, but they have a daily impact.  He was injured in multiple explosions during a deployment to Iraq in 2006 and has been diagnosed with severe TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), which has a profound effect on his organizational skills, cognition, and memory.  Having an iPad will help him increase his independence and everyday success by assisting with planning, reminders and record-keeping.
Chris' biggest challenge is his memory loss.  “You can be talking to somebody, having an important conversation and five or ten minutes later, you’ve forgotten the whole thing,” he says.  “Sometimes you even forget your own friend’s name. You might remember their face but can’t remember their name.  It’s frustrating.”  Now he can keep notes on his new iPad instead of trying to keep track of the large collection of paper notebooks he had been using to cope until this week.
Unlike most wounded warriors supported by Valour-IT, who are referred by their case workers or medical caregivers, Chris was identified through the Soldiers' Angels volunteer network--a volunteer knew of his TBI and told him how Valour-IT could help.  On Monday, he received his brand new iPad during a visit to the Soldiers' Angels Support Center in San Antonio. 
To help more wounded warriors like Chris, for whom an iPad or voice-controlled laptop can profoundly affect quality of life, join the friendly Valour-IT Fundraising Competition.  The goal is to raise $100,000, enough to help at least 250 wounded warriors!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Weekend of Valour-IT


So far, the Project Valour-IT Fundraising competition resulted in over $15,000 in new funds for adaptive laptops and iPads for wounded troops!  It's already going to work, with over 25 laptops distributed since the fundraising began on July 4, and more to come as the donations continue.  Have you donated yet?  Have you told a friend or family member who can help?  You have the power to change a hero's life!

This last weekend, five laptops were shipped for distribution at the Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, and several more were sent to the hospital at Camp Pendleton.  At Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) and the Soldiers' Angels Support Center (SASC) in San Antonio, 11 laptops and iPads were hand-delivered to wounded warriors who will use them to reconnect with the world, address their TBI-related challenges and transition to post-military life.  These bits of electronics and plastics are powerful--they change flesh-and-blood lives.


At the SASC, Soldiers' Angels founder Patti Patton-Bader was wearing a Soldiers' Angels t-shirt when she was accosted by a little girl who ran to her, embraced her and exclaimed with joy, "I love Angels!" 
The girl's mother soon explained.  "I don't know if you know this," she said, "But you have already helped us at Christmas."  She added that as their husband and father was recovering, she hadn't known how they were going to be able to have Christmas in the middle of it all.  Fortunately, they were identified for Operation Outreach assistance, and so one day an Angel volunteer picked her up and took her out to buy a tree complete with trimmings, gave them presents and took them out to dinner.  "It made my daughter truly believe in Santa," she said.  "And now this.  I just can't thank Angels enough."

The little girl's father is the man pictured in black above.  He has had 16 surgeries since he was wounded, and has made much progress, though he is still continuing to recover.  If you know someone like him who needs a Valour-IT laptop, please click here.  To help heroes like him get the laptops and iPads they need, please donate what you can Every little bit donated has the power to change a hero's life.
Scroll down for more pictures from this weekend's Valour-IT events.
To help supply more computers to wounded heroes who need them, click here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Charity Ratings & Board Response


An Open Letter to Our Friends and Volunteers
Below is a letter from the Chairman of our Audit Committee and Member of the Board of Trustees, Richard Lowe.  The Board of Trustees has recommended that this response get as wide an audience as possible, so we encourage you to share the message. 
Wingtip to Wingtip, 
Patti Patton-Bader
Soldiers' Angels Founder & CEO
It has come to the attention of Soldiers' Angels Board of Trustees that allegations have been raised by Michael Yon regarding the stability of our organization.  We understand that some of our volunteers and supporters are disheartened by these charges, and we would like to take the opportunity to respond to them.  We would also like to take this time to explain the ratings that were given to Soldiers' Angels by Gloria Wise/Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Charity Navigator, two independent rating organizations.
First, let me address organizational stability.  Mr. Yon’s allegations are baseless at best.  Soldiers' Angels has worked with over 400,000 highly-motivated volunteers since in its inception.  In any organization of this size there will always be interpersonal conflicts and hard feelings between some of the volunteers; that is only normal.  As our charity evolves in its mission to support service members and their families, organizational priorities change and some individuals may feel that their particular program isn’t being given the proper amount of attention.  Rest assured, the Board weighs every issue and does its level best to make sure that everyone is accommodated, but our focus is on delivering the maximum benefit to those who are serving or have served in harm’s way.  While most of our volunteers understand and support this concept, a handful of them have opted to air their grievances publicly, which has created fodder for Mr. Yon, who in turn has elevated concern among our other volunteers.
We assure you that the organization is in good standing and we sincerely hope that the actions of a few people who have placed personal agendas above service do not tarnish the feelings you have for all the amazing work you do.   We want to once again thank all of our volunteers for giving so much of themselves to our men and women in uniform. 
Regarding the ratings that we have received, the BBB rates organizations every two years for their charity accountability. Our first rating by the BBB was in 2008 and we received passing grades on 14 of the 20 criteria. In 2010 we were re-rated and received a grade of 18 out of 20. The next rating will take place this fall, and we have taken steps to correct the two deficiencies that were present the last time BBB rated Soldiers' Angels. We fully expect to receive a 20 out of 20 when the review has been completed.
The second independent agency is Charity Navigator. Charity Navigator has the following on their web site:
"Charity Navigator's evaluations of a charity's Financial Health --- which examines how a charity manages its finances day to day and how financially well-positioned it is in order to sustain its programs over time --- have helped millions of donors make better giving decisions impacting billions of dollars of donations each year. By adding this new Accountability & Transparency dimension to its rating system --- which tracks metrics such as whether the charity used an objective process to determine their CEO's salary, whether it has an effective governance structure, and whether it has a whistleblower policy --- Charity Navigator will help donors have even greater confidence in their charitable choices.
30% of the charities' star rating improved
19% of the charities' star ratings decreased
With the bar set higher, the total number of 4-star charities decreased by 20%.
At the same time, charities with ratings of 3 stars (good) or better increased by 8%.

As you can tell by the statement, the original concept was strictly a financial rating service.  In 2007, Soldiers' Angels received a two star rating.  In 2008 and 2009, we received a three star rating. In 2010 and 2011, we received a two star rating in each year.  While this may seem to be below average, we would note that SA has consistently received high ratings for Fund Efficiency with a score of 7.5 out of 10 for 2008 through 2010. In 2007, we received a 5, so we have improved and held steady since the initial rating period.  Fund expenses were high in 2008, and we received a low score of 2.5 out of 10 that year.  Since then SA has gotten a firm grip on its cost structure, and fund expenses have been below 15% since then, giving us 7.5 out of 10. Soldiers' Angels has consistently scored well with Program Expenses, consistently scoring above 7 out of 10 points since Charity Navigator has rated us. We have scored a perfect 10 out of 10 in administrative expenses in every year, as we pride ourselves on running a lean ship.  Where we have fallen short is in Revenue Growth and Program Growth. To an extent, the recession has hurt charitable giving across all charities, and SA has been no different. Basically, our funding hasn’t been what it was during the halcyon years and we are penalized for this.
Another area which reduced our financial rating relates to a change in Soldiers' Angels operations that we believe directly supports our mission.  In 2009 we started the S.A.V.E program to employ troops leaving the military and provide a transitional period while they sought permanent work.   In the early years of Soldiers' Angels, we hired third party companies to send out care packages on a large scale each day, which was considered by Charity Navigator as a 100% Program Expense.  As more troops started coming home from the wars and leaving military service, we recognized that many were struggling to find or keep jobs in the civilian sector due to the challenges of reintegration and Post-Traumatic Stress.  As such, we opened our own warehouse in San Antonio to send care packages directly and staffed it with recently-returned veterans to give them a chance to transition within a safe environment mentored by fellow veterans.  In this way, Soldiers' Angels has supported close to 30 transitioning veterans.  Supporting returning veterans through S.A.V.E is consistent with the Soldiers' Angels mission and logically falls under Program Costs, but Charity Navigator declared it to be overhead, shifting a major expense into the Administrative column.
On the positive side of our ratings, the new Charity Navigator category, which began two years ago, is Accountability and Transparency, and this is where we stand out.  For the past two years we have scored a four star rating from Charity Navigator.  This category takes into account many qualitative measurements, including the fact that we have a Whistleblower policy, a Privacy policy, a Records Retention policy, and many other criteria that are meant to ensure that the Board isn’t playing fast and loose with the rules as people have charged.  For the most recent period we received 70 out of a possible 70 points.  Our organization is an open book, and if anyone ever doubts this they have the ability to do a search at Charity Navigator or on our web site and find the information for themselves.
If the Board  so desired, there are a number of ways that we could creatively account for certain programs that Soldiers' Angels maintains.
There are accounting practices that can bring the fundraising cost down on paper, but we'd want an accountant to sign off.  There are accountants who actually specialize in reallocating costs for non-profits and the accepted practices seem to change fairly often.  As a result of this, we decided to adopt a more conservative posture and not jeopardize the reputation of Soldiers' Angels.
As an example, when we send mail and ask donors  to return a card with a message for a soldier and we include that card in a care package, the cost of sending and collecting that card can be partly attributable to program costs, rather than 100% fundraising.  We don’t attribute it to Program Costs, although we are allowed to.  It doesn't actually change any cost, but it could move some cost figures from "fundraising" to "program" and thus lowers our cost on paper.
As charities go, our fundraising cost percentage is 15%; pretty low if you're actually soliciting. Those who get much lower are funded with government money, foundations or a few wealthy individuals. Charity Navigator’s rating system would favor that because the fundraising cost is Zero.....but the drawback is that we would have no base of support.  For example, if a large foundation were our sole donor and they were to cut back on general charitable giving, it could theoretically put SA  out of business because we would be relying on one source to fund the bulk of our operation.  We have opted for a broad base of donors to prevent such a situation from happening.
In conclusion, we believe that the Board of Trustees is honest and ethical, and has behaved in a proper manner with the sole thought being the viability of the charity.  The attacks that were made against Soldiers' Angels and several of the Board members are baseless and without merit, and impugn the integrity of Soldiers' Angels and its Board of Trustees. Soldiers' Angels remains committed to its mission to support members of the armed forces and their families.
For those volunteers who are concerned by the attacks, rest assured that the Board is fighting them and we will prevail. There is no need to doubt the viability of the organization.  Our viability is strengthened by committed volunteers who always put the needs of our armed forces and their families first.  THESE HEROES ARE RELYING ON YOU TO COME THROUGH FOR THEM. What we are facing is nothing compared to what they are facing now, and we owe them our unconditional support.  As a general by the name of George Smith Patton, Jr. once said, “Do Not Take Counsel of Your Fears.”
Respectfully,
Richard P. Lowe, CFA®, CFP®
Soldiers' Angels
Board of Trustees, Member at Large
Chairman of the Audit Committee

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Laptops & Paintballs


Normally laptops and paintball shouldn't mix, but Drew Quevedo of Ultimate Paintball Wars (UPW) has a big vision, and that vision includes Soldiers' Angels Project Valour-IT.
On Friday, June 21, a couple hundred paintball enthusiasts will descend on the Camp Pendleton Paintball Park for one big "war" dubbed "Tropical Thunder."  The event will include a massive 8-hour paintball game, along with special arenas for close-quarters play and a kids zone.  Camping is available for the entire weekend, and a DJ will be spinning for entertainment.
The biggest idea is what Drew hopes his paintball wars will become.  His plan is to eventually get up to 1,000 participants at once in Big Game Paintball or Scenario Paintball events big enough to help fund Project Valour-IT. 
For Tropical Thunder, Soldiers' Angels Volunteers will be on-hand to help with logistics and tell participants about the importance of supporting the troops.  Laptops for local severely-wounded veterans will be handed out by Soldiers' Angels this time around, but Drew expects that soon his events will be large enough to fund the laptops directly.  With participation doubling to 200 for only the second mega-war UPW has put it (the first was two months ago), it looks like they're well on his way to meeting their goal of being fundraising-capable by early next year.
Drew discovered Soldiers' Angels through a news report and says he was, "dumbfounded by how large you are and how great your operation is."  He immediately wanted to help spread the word and decided that his humongous paintball wars would be a great vehicle, focusing Valour-IT.
While they build their fundraising and event capabilities, UPW is offering free entrance tickets and rental equipment to local Angel volunteers to allow them to experience the fun that soon will be funding Valour-IT. In, addition the sponsors of Tropical Thunder are donating all the necessary gear for a number of wounded warriors from 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines to participate in the game:  RAP4, Full Clip USA, R7USA, DXS Paintballs, VForce and Camp Pendleton Paintball Park are all offering their products and services to the heroes for free.
Since its conception in the '70s, paintball has become one of America's fastest growing alternative sports with an estimated two thousand fields across the country and close to nine million players. By replacing bullets with marble-sized rubber balls of paint, the game simulates a day of hunting that requires not only good aim, but also careful planning and coordination, and is available to both adults and children side-by-side.
For more information about Tropical Thunder, including registration, click here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dear Angels & Friends,

Today we're focusing Project Valour-IT because it is integral to the recovery and reintegration of wounded warriors who return from combat severely injured and facing a very different life than they left.  

A Valour-IT laptop connects recovering warriors with their personal support system, which has a remarkable effect on recovery and morale.  According to a physical therapist who routinely works with the wounded, "their connection to the world via the Worldwide Web seems to assuage a threatening depression and apathy that many of our wounded warriors experience during their recovery.  The results of your [Valour-IT] program greatly exceed what one would expect from such a simple act as giving them a laptop...it so clearly enhances their hope, which always translates to a more speedy recovery."  

Check out these three stories that demonstrate the power of Valour-IT! 

First up, Justin Clark speaks for himself:

I am a recipient of a Valour-IT laptop.  With that [laptop] came the ability to communicate again, as my speech was impaired and I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury!  I want to say thank you to all that donate and organize the Valour-IT program.  Without it, we service members would be high and dry because the military doesn't provide electronics like computers with software to communicate with!  The Valour-IT program is one-of-a-kind and it's definitely a working program that gives 110% to those in need of assistance...Again, thank you to Soldiers' Angel's for this wonderful program!

Getting a Valour-IT to laptop as soon as possible after injury creates the greatest benefit, as SPC Lund's story illustrates.  He lost both his arms in a blast and must rely 100% on his voice to use a computer to connect with his world as he recovers. His laptop motivates him in physical therapy!

For Sgt. Tomlinson, a Valour-IT laptop is a ticket to college independence despite partial paralysis in his arms.  He spent two years recovering and is now transitioning to post-military life.
 

For all three of these warriors, a Valour-IT laptop not only boosts their morale and enriches their lives, but puts the power to shape their futures within reach no matter their physical capabilities.  More than words, more than sentiment, more than gratitude, a Valour-IT laptop is a gift beyond measure!

How can you help with the fundraising competition to ensure more severely-wounded heroes like these benefit from this amazing project? 

The best thing you can do is spread the word!

So far, we've raised $7,000 through the summer fundraising competition.  That's a great start, but it's only 7% of the goal we need to meet demand.  Fortunately, bloggers are stepping up to help, and aligning with a team to bring others on board and motivate donations (all funds raised go to ANY service member in need of Valour-IT, regardless of branch).  

Once again this year, the small-but-powerful Marine Corps team leapt into the early lead, but now the Army and Navy-Coast Guard teams are surging.   But where are the Air Force team supporters?  If you know people who would like to help Team Air Force make it a contest, share this link!

Almost daily, Angels volunteers at military hospitals across the U.S. meet warfighters returning home after being grievously wounded in combat.  We must do all we can to lift their spirits by demonstrating to each of them that we know who they are and we support them.  Please contribute in whatever way you can, including passing this email along to your friends and family in order to share this great opportunity to give back to those who have given so much for us.

Every $5, $10, $50 or $100 gets us closer to the next laptop for a wounded warrior like SPC Lund, Sgt. Tomlinson or Justin Clark.  Please help by forwarding this email and clicking here to donate today!

Wingtip to wingtip,

Patti Patton-Bader
Soldiers' Angels
www.soldiersangels.org

It was the first time I felt whole since I’d woken up wounded in Landstuhl.
–Major Charles "Chuck" Ziegenfuss, on using a voice-controlled laptop

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Valour-IT: One Warrior's Story


Project Valour-IT: Technology for the WoundedDespite popular belief and phrases on the news like "draw down," the men and women who fight for us are still at war and still suffering life-altering wounds.  Angels volunteering at military medical centers throughout the US witness dozens of warfighters returning home each month, grievously wounded in combat.  
Here is one wounded warrior's story...  
When Specialist Eric Lund's unit hit was hit by an IED in late May 2012, ten of his fellow 1-126th Cavalry National Guardsmen were wounded but he received the brunt of the blast.  Lund lost both his arms above the elbow and suffered other major wounds throughout his body.  
In June, two Soldiers' Angels staff members visited SPC Lund to give him hisValour-IT laptop. He was doing well and still undergoing several medical procedures but was ready to begin to make use of a voice-controlled laptop.
When SPC Lund was presented with the laptop, his father spoke up with excitement. "You can start doing your own Facebook updates, now!" he said to his son.  "To me, that felt like a huge moment," one of the Angels later reflected with great perceptiveness.  "For a man that has lost both of his arms, he must have felt that he was regaining some of his freedom."  
As is common with severely wounded warriors early in their recovery, the Valour-IT laptop is also serving as motivation to be even more focused on doing everything possible to improve healing and recovery.  Since SPC Lund is facing the challenge of using the Dragon Naturally Speaking software while he has a tracheotomy tube in place (which affects clarity of speech), he is anxious to get the tube removed as soon as possible so that he can make full use of the software's capabilities.  
For the Angels, meeting Lund and his family was a reminder of how much wounded warriors have sacrificed in their service and what a long road they have as they look forward.  The Angels reported:
His parents were genuinely amazing people; we visited with SPC Lund's mom while he and the therapist worked with the Dragon Naturally Speaking software for a while. They told us how he had gotten his wheelchair and was able to get out of his room and go down to the cafeteria. What a huge moment--slowly but surely this man is finding his freedom in little ways that we take for granted.
As the Angels were leaving the hospital, someone behind them called out, "Hey, Angels!"  They turned around to find Eric's father, who again thanked them for the laptop, adding that it meant a lot to all of them.  "The support that Soldiers' Angels is showing is incredible," he said.  One of the Angels responded very accurately, "that is the least we can do for a man that as given so much for his country!"
Currently, dozens of wounded warriors like SPC Lund are waiting for their Valour-IT laptops because funding is not yet available for them.  These wounded warriors are in need of our significant and sustained support.  They need Americans to lift their spirits by demonstrating to each of them that we know of them, we support them, and we are here to help them as they rebuild their lives.  
Please contribute to Valour-IT today to help give back to those who have given so much!
[Note: SPC Lund has asked that we maintain his privacy, so the pictures here depict a few of the thousands of others who have benefited from Valour-IT in the past seven years and are comfortable sharing their pictures.]

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Valour-IT Needs You!

07/02/12


It was the first time I felt whole 
since I’d woken up wounded in Landstuhl.
–MAJ "Chuck" Ziegenfuss, on using a voice-controlled laptop
For the last seven years, Project Valour-IT has been supplying voice-controlled and other adaptive laptops to severely wounded heroes who need to stay connected while they recover, or who are building a new life as they transition out of the military.  That's over 6,000 laptops for wounded heroes!  Unfortunately, we don't know where the next laptop is going to come from...
Every week brings more wounded troops home from the battlefield, but donations for Valour-IT are not keeping pace with their needs.  To maintain the project, we are holding a special fundraiser from Independence Day (July 4th) through Labor Day (September 3rd).
Divided among four “virtual teams” named in honor of U.S. military service branches, the fundraising goal is to bring in at least $100,000 through friendly inter-service rivalry.   This amount should be able to provide about 250 laptops for wounded heroes who need an accessible computer to reconnect and build new lives. 
To do this, we need your help.  Please consider how you can make this fundraiser a success!  You can:
•    Share this link with everyone you know
•    Post about the fundraising competition on Facebook or other online forums
•    Tweet about it
•    Post it on your blog
•    Share it with people who blog or run websites

The fact is, this project changes lives.  Your donation and your efforts in this fundraiser will have an impact that is difficult to put into words, though Chuck's quote at the top of this page comes close: "It was the first time I felt whole..."
These heroes have literally sacrificed parts of their bodies in service to our country.  As we celebrate the freedoms their service has given us, let us renew our efforts to ensure they have what they need to build their own new lives as wounded warriors.  How can we give them less?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Valour-IT: The Great Need


We're less than a week into the summer-long 2012 Valour-IT fundraising competition, but generous and caring Americans have already donated over $7,000 to provide laptops to severely wounded troops!
Thanks to their gifts, laptops are already flying out the door!  This week, four catastrophically-wounded heroes will receive a voice-controlled laptop that will enable them to reconnect with their world, to gain a bit more control of their environment thanks to technology and the loving hearts of donors. 
In recent months the lethality and sophistication of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) used against coalition troops in Afghanistan has markedly increased and survivors who have lost two or three limbs are not uncommon; three of the warriors who will receive Valour-IT laptops this week are triple amputees who were recently wounded in the same blast, and another wounded warrior scheduled to receive a laptop thanks to the new donations is an EOD (Explosives Ordinance Disposal) expert who lost both his arms in an IED blast.
There are currently 38 fully-vetted wounded warriors on the Valour-IT waiting list, with many more than that in the middle of the request/approval process.   Every single one of them has suffered a catastrophic injury in combat and until people started donating last week, they weren't going to receive a laptop.  
Though the Valour-IT mission has expanded in recent years, recipients like the four described above are the core of Valour-IT's mission--the wounded warriors for whom it has the most impact: severely wounded heroes who need a voice-controlled laptop to regain some independence and reconnect with their world.  As IEDs have grown more sophisticated and successful in Afghanistan, the need for Valour-IT's fundamental benefit to the wounded has ramped up significantly.  
Project Valour-IT is more powerful than words can truly explain.  A wounded warrior who is coping with the catastrophic rearrangement of his body and his psyche needs the familiar reassurance of doing something he could do before--surfing the web, controlling a piece of his environment, and reconnecting with his support system.  Putting a voice-controlled laptop in front of a wounded hero gives him back a piece of his life and hope for the future that he WILL do what he did before, even if he has to do a it a bit differently, now.
Words are vital--they soothe the battered heart and soul... but Valour-IT goes further.  It's not just warm feelings and needed reassurance of support; it's a powerful tool handed to a hero by dozens of Americans who gave what they could, did what they could when they could do nothing else.   It's a physical proof of two things: "We're here for you, and you are still a part of our world."
Please give what you can by clicking a "Donate" button, do what you can by emailing a friend or sharing it on Facebook with a  personal comment.  Together we can reach out to these heroes at the most difficult times in their lives, offering them a true hand up to the new life they are struggling to construct. 
They have sacrificed pieces of themselves for us.  Can we sacrifice a couple of dollars for them?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Last Laptop

7/09/12




Sgt. Tomlinson with his brother, father, racer David White (in purple) and David's bike.
(photo by Stop or I'll Shoot)

On June 23, in a touching ceremony in front of throngs of fans at the Triumph Superbike Classic, Soldiers' Angels was able to distribute the last Valour-IT laptop that funds allowed at that time (the fundraising competition, which began on July 4th, is trying to raise more money to help with the dozens of wounded warriors still waiting for a laptop).
Sgt Ben Tomlinson was serving as a Special Operations Marine on his second tour in Afghanistan when he was shot in the spine.  Paralyzed from the chest downward, he spent almost two years in intensive medical treatment and physical therapy to develop limited use of his arms before returning to his home of Jacksonville in February 2012.  Now he wants to attend college.
American Motorcycle Association (AMA) racer and Soldiers' Angels ambassadorDavid White #213 presented Sgt. Tomlinson with a voice-controlled laptop fully-equipped with Dragon Naturally Speaking software at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL during the 2012 Triumph Superbike Classic.  The presentation was part of the opening ceremonies conducted from Pit Road.
Angel Lori S, who facilitated the event, was on-hand and reported that the presentation brought most of the participants and onlookers to tears, including herself.  She said Ben was humble and shy about it all but was very moved.  "Ben was so touched and grateful," she exclaims.  "He was very excited about the Dragon software because he wants to go back to school.  You could see that the gift of a laptop meant everything to him, but with the software the lights went on and he said, 'I can do this!'  It was great.  It was just great." 
During the Fan Walk (a pre-race opportunity for fans to meet racers and get souvenirs) David included a large Soldiers' Angels banner at his spot, and fans who stopped by were given Angel bracelets and pamphlets.  After the presentation, traffic at David's booth picked up considerably, with many people wanting to learn more about Soldiers' Angels. 
Also in attendance for the race was a group of National Guard soldiers who, when they heard about the presentation, asked if they could stand with Sgt. Tomlinson to show support for their Marine brother.  It was 112 degrees on Pit Road during the ceremony, but they stood tall in honor of Tomlinson. Just telling the story makes Lori choke up a bit.  "Everyone was still talking about the presentation last weekend," she exclaims.  "I was extremely proud to be a part of it."  
Huge thanks go out to Lori, David, Zoom Motorsports and all who were involved in not only changing Sgt. Tomlinson's life with a voice-controlled laptop, but in showing so many other people the impact they can have by supporting the troops through Soldiers' Angels!
To help more wounded warriors like Sgt. Tomlinson receive a voice-controlled laptop, please donate!
*2nd photo above by Dennis Lathem; 3rd photo by Brian J Nelson

Monday, July 09, 2012

Which team will you support?

Welcome to the 2012 Soldiers' Angels Project Valour-IT fundraiser, running through September 3! This spirited competition raises money for technology that reconnects wounded warriors and supports their recovery.

To donate, select your favorite team's "Donate" button (or click here). You can also join the effort as a blogger or webmaster or help in other ways!
Please Note: division into teams is for for the purpose of friendly competition.  All donations received will eventually go into the same "pot" for Valour-IT and will be applied to each assisted service member's need regardless of service branch.  We were unable to find a Coast Guard team leader, but we invite USCG bloggers and supporters to team up with their fellow mariners of Team Navy.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

It's on!

Calling All Angels...  This is a big one!

It was the first time I felt whole since I’d woken up wounded in Landstuhl.
–Major Charles "Chuck" Ziegenfuss, on using a voice-controlled laptop

For seven years, Project Valour-IT has been supplying voice-controlled and other adaptive laptops to severely wounded heroes who need to stay connected while they recover, or who are building a new life as they transition out of the military.  That's over 6,000 laptops for wounded heroes!

Every week brings more wounded troops home from the battlefield, but donations for Valour-IT are not keeping pace with their needs.  To maintain this amazing project, Soldiers' Angels is holding a very special fundraiser from Independence Day (July 4th) through Labor Day (September 3).

Divided among four “virtual teams” named in honor of U.S. military service branches, the fundraising goal is to bring in at least $100,000 through friendly inter-service rivalry.   This amount should be able to provide about 250 laptops for wounded heroes who an accessible computer to reconnect and build new lives. 

To do this, we need your help.  Please consider how you can make this fundraiser a success!  You can:
  • ·         Visit www.soldiersangels.org/fundraiser
  • ·         Post information about the fundraising competition Facebook or other online forums
  • ·         Tweet about it
  • ·         Post it on your blog
  • ·         Share it with people who blog or run websites
This project changes lives.  Your donation and your efforts in this fundraiser will have an impact that is difficult to put into words, though Chuck's quote at the top of this letter comes close: "It was the first time I felt whole..."

These heroes have literally sacrificed parts of their bodies in service to our country.  As we celebrate the freedoms their service has given us, let us renew our efforts to ensure they have what they need to build their own new lives as wounded warriors.  How can we give them less?