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    Valour-IT, Milblogs Give Hundreds of Laptops to Wounded Soldiers

    by Mark Glaser
    December 6, 2006

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    As I sit here and type this blog post, I pause for a moment to consider how important my fingers and hands are to me as a blogger and writer. If I should be injured or lose the use of my hands in some awful accident, what would I do?

    That hypothetical situation is very real for some American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, where body armor helps protect them from getting killed from the blasts of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — but injuries to extremities are common. In the summer of 2005, when Army Captain Charles “Chuck” Ziegenfuss, a military blogger, was severely injured by such an IED, he asked his blog audience to help him get voice-to-text software, Dragon Naturally Speaking, for his laptop.

    The next day, he found a gift certificate at Amazon for $200 so he could buy the software, and slowly started to blog again, which he found to be therapeutic in his recovery time. Ziegenfuss is far from being a touchy-feely person, liberally sprinkling in terms such as “retards” and calling Democrats “Dums” on his blog. But he did soften up a bit when his blog readers helped get him the software:

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    i-c2f1460837524b588d4547a841241546-Chuck Ziegenfuss.jpg
    President Bush meets Ziegenfuss

    Turns out it’s a lot slower posting this way [with the software] than it was when I could type, but it is a lot faster than I can type with my gimpy hands. I really do need to thank everyone for their outstanding and overwhelming support. I have gotten more letters and cards than I can possibly read in a lifetime.

    But not long after he put a call out for the software, another blogger, a woman who goes by the handle Fuzzybear Lioness (or FbL), approached Ziegenfuss about setting up a charity to give other wounded soldiers laptops with the software so they could communicate with loved ones and other soldiers still in action. By August 2005, they had teamed up with a volunteer group, Soldier’s Angels, that already had non-profit status. That group offered to help run some of the logistics of the project, dubbed Valour-IT for “Voice-Activated Laptops for OUR Injured Troops.”

    FbL told me they initially raised $15,000 online thanks to the publicity and support of the strong military blogging community. The next step was a Veteran’s Day contest, where “teams” of bloggers aligned themselves with various armed services — the Navy, Air Force, Marines and Army — in a friendly competition to see who could raise the most money for laptops with the special voice-recognition software.

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    “We made our goal $24,000 for the 10 days leading up to Veteran’s Day [in 2005],” FbL said. “To my utter shock, we raised $100,000. I thought, ‘Holy cow, what did I get myself involved in?’ The VA [Veterans Affairs] and Military Order of the Purple Heart heard about us and the Undersecretary of the VA invited us to come out to visit one of the trauma units and deliver the laptops there….This year, we raised almost $230,000 in the two weeks leading up to Veteran’s Day. We’ve delivered almost 700 laptops now. I figured this time around, with more media connections, I decided to think big and shoot for $180,000 and we blew right through that to $230,000.”

    FbL tells me she expects Valour-IT to have distributed 850 laptops by this Christmas.

    Bloggers Making a Difference for Soldiers

    Neither FbL or Ziegenfuss make any money themselves from the project, which has zero overhead and is completely volunteer-run — just like Soldier’s Angels, which offers all sorts of services for wounded soldiers. FbL, who prefers to keep her real name out of the spotlight and off her blogs, told me how amazed she was by the power of the blogosphere to organize for a cause and come together virtually.

    She said she hadn’t met the other bloggers and collaborators at Soldier’s Angels until months after they had started working together. And when CBS Evening News showed interest in telling the story of Valour-IT, FbL had to tell them there was no charity headquarters or place they could film their story about the project.

    Just how important are these laptops with voice-recognition software to the soldiers who get them?

    “The psychological benefits of the laptops are just huge,” FbL said. “The medical people who work with the wounded soldiers say it has a big effect on their recovery. It’s motivational and keeps them in touch with the other soldiers who are still deployed, and it keeps them in touch with their families who might not be able to visit them. In Chuck’s case, he could do literally nothing for himself. He was a tank company commander in Iraq in charge of about 100 men. He went from that position to being in a hospital bed. It was just devastating for someone who was the big bad guy [in charge]. Now he could sit in his bed and talk to the laptop and do anything anyone else could do on a computer.”

    Ziegenfuss concurs, and told me he was blown away by the capabilities of the software.

    “It’s incredible, what [the software] can do,” he said. “The company that makes it gives it to us at a very discounted price. We don’t get a discounted rate on the computers, but we find them on sale or refurbished. As long as it can run the Naturally Speaking software, that’s great.”

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    Lynette Frascella

    Lynette Frascella, the director of the Wounded Team at Soldier’s Angels, told me via email that the milblogs were key in making Valour-IT such a great success.

    “With the milbloggers spreading the word about this project, we have reached so many more Americans who have jumped in to help these heroes,” she said. “As for the technology, we work with CAP (Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program) through the Department of Defense. CAP provides the free software and/or hardware needed to adapt the laptops to the [soldiers’] disability. They also provide free training. I think [Valour-IT] is a fantastic program and wish we could provide every wounded soldier with a laptop. I have seen first hand the difference a laptop makes in a wounded soldier’s life. Unfortunately, we are limited to the severely injured — loss of sight, limb, burns, nerve damage, paralysis and TBI [traumatic brain injury].”

    One soldier wrote the folks at Soldier’s Angels an email telling them how thankful he was for the special laptop gift:

    I am one of the wounded soldiers recovering at Brook Army Medical Center. Tonight me and my wife were honored to attend a dinner where I was presented with this new laptop that I am using right now. So the first thing I wanted to do on this computer is to send you my deepest gratitude. This is one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever gotten and I know that me and my family will benefit from this gift. I truly thank God for allowing me the opportunity to cross paths with such caring people.

    PDA for TBI

    After 33 surgeries and various nerve grafts, Ziegenfuss is slowly recovering from his injuries. He is now training military officers-to-be at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but he’s lost none of the brash attitude at his blog. Though he can use some of his fingers, he still relies on the Naturally Speaking software for longer writing or blog posts.

    Meanwhile, FbL is looking for full-time work at a military non-profit in Southern California and is hoping that Valour-IT can become a fully funded endowment, so that online fundraising campaigns won’t be necessary. She says they are close to getting a large donation that could make that happen, and might make a deal with a computer hardware company that would donate refurbished computers or lower the cost below the $600 they usually pay per laptop.

    Beyond that, FbL imagines another program that would offer personal digital assistants (PDAs) for soldiers suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBI). TBI is a common problem for soldiers in Iraq who have suffered brain damage from IED blasts. One of the common problems is short-term memory loss, and the PDAs could help injured soldiers remember their appointments, to-do lists and other minutiae lost in the haze during recovery.

    While most of the bloggers who supported Valour-IT have been on the conservative side of the political spectrum, FbL notes that the project cuts across ideology by focusing on helping out wounded veterans.

    “Doing a program like this is so beyond politics,” FbL said. “You have someone here who is hurt, and you have the ability to make their lives better, why wouldn’t you do that? That’s part of our success with this. How do you say no to this without looking like a total jerk? [laughs] You can say, ‘It’s all George Bush’s fault.’ Yes, it is, but how are you going to help? It’s beyond politics and it’s so human. It’s a winning concept and I am lucky enough to know brilliant people who have made this project work.”

    Valour-IT is another result of average folks banding together online to make a difference, getting beyond petty politics and government bureacracy to get something done and do it right. It’s one of those classic holiday stories of people giving of their time, their money and even the bully-pulpit space of their blogs to help others in need.

    What do you think of the work of Valour-IT? Do you know of other great charity drives started in the blogosphere recently? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Tagged: computers military soldier videos weblog
    • FbL

      Thank you, thank you! I think you have covered Valour-IT here more thoroughly than any of the other media outlets who have written/broadcast about us.

      One little point of clarification for those who may be confused about other amounts of money that have beent thrown out in reports of Valour-IT: the $330,000 figure is ONLY what we raised from the two Veterans Day fundraisers, hundreds of thousands more have been donated to Valour-IT throughout the 16 months of its existence (both online and via phone or U.S. Mail).

      Again, thank you so much for your professional work on this!

    • I’m one of those milbloggers that Fuzzy, um, *encourages* yeah, that’s the word, *encourages*, while getting the online fundraisers organized and during their execution. All I can say is, if anything, the great credit she’s getting here is… understated.

      Fuzzy will never admit it to herself, but she’s the Heart and Soul of Project Valour-IT.

    • Grim

      I’m another of the MilBloggers. Glad to see you folks at PBS reporting on this project. You are right on in pointing out Fuzzy. We’re proud of her.

      I imagine one or two “professional” charitable organizations will be noticing this post. You could do worse than to hire Fuzzy to consult for you. The young lady works miracles for free, so imagine what she could do if she were able to focus on miracles full time! I’ve dealt with quite a few charities over the years, and I think what she’s accomplished here may be without peer.

    • Go Fuzzy, Chuck & Project Valour IT – HOOAH! You are moving moutains & I am so glad everyone is starting to take notice outside the Milblog community!

    • Thank you for this story. The more people who know about this great project, the better. FbL is everything you write and more.

    • FbL

      Oh, Geez! This is not an FbL admiration society, and this article was about Valour-IT, not about me! You all know that the talents of a huge group of people made this possible–this is a true story of people from all over the world working together to make wonderful things happen.

      Enough of the FbL praise,’K?

    • FbL

      Oops! I should be gracious and say thank you, huh? You know I do appreciate the sentiment, but this makes me uncomfortable because it short-changes the many, many people with vital roles in this project. So thank you for your kindness, but please remember it’s a group project (especially theses days when it’s Lynette and Jim who are running the day-to-day).

    • Boquisucio

      Nope – not by a long mile. Universal adulation and apotheosis to The Fuzz is by no means near to completion.

      One great reason, to be proud of you.

    • Thanks for covering this story of Americans looking out for each other in times of need.

    • htom

      Sorry, Fbl; you had a Very Good Idea and have done a Very Wonderful Thing, and in the world I want to live in, that means that friends and strangers who recognize that praise you. Very well done, indeed, and thank you.

      Now is the time to blush, nod your head or say “Thank you”, and accept that you’re getting good karma cookies from others.

    • GREAT coverage of an even greater effort.

    • Karla (threadbndr)

      Fuzz, you deserve the credit for the start up. I can’t plug ViT and Soldier’s Angels enough.

      Thank you also to Mark for your excellent reporting. All to often the Main Stream Media seems to overlook the ‘good’ news and focus only on the ‘bad’. As the mother of a US Marine, I appreciate this piece of reporting more than you can know.

    • I’ll echo the adulation for FbL. It is due and well-deserved.

      Thank you, PBS, for spotlighting such a wonderful and effective program for our wounded Soldiers. My hopes and prayers are that, like Fuzzy mentioned, this becomes a fully endowed program and that the blogosphere can then put it’s considerable (and successful) effort into yet another worthy project!

    • John S.

      Mark- Thanks for covering this worthwhile project that helps so many. This old sailor has chipped in a few bucks to help out. Would some of your PBS comrades care to join in supporting the troops as well? Anyone can donate via the VALOUR-IT site at http://soldiersangels.org/valour/index.html
      This is a chance for the media to support those troops most in need. Make it a Merry Christmas for them!

    • Thanks, everyone, for your comments and support for Valour-IT, FbL, Chuck and PBS coverage of this project. I have to say as a longtime journalist and columnist that it’s easy for us to be critical at all times and dig up dirt on the government, business, celebrities, etc. It’s nice to also give thanks and exposure to people doing good in the community, and I’m going to try to do that as often as I criticize. Plenty of bloggers fall into the negativity trap as well. It’s not a liberal or conservative thing, it’s just a human thing to be grateful and promote worthy ideas as well as knocking down the corrupt and broken ones.

    • Mark;

      Thank you for your coverage of this program. Not only am I hopeful this will dramatically change lives of our service members, but I would also hope organizations and families that deal with the disabled due to accidents/birth defects anywhere would see this as a great model to help others stay in/get into the business world. The technology exists, and the practical testing has been done.

    • “Ziegenfuss is far from being a touchy-feely person, liberally sprinkling in terms such as retards and calling Democrats Dums on his blog.”

      I get a lump in my throat every time I read it aloud. I managed to get liberal(ly), touchy-feely (no pun intended, with regard to the whole hand/nerve injury) and democrats in the same quote, along with the word “retards”.
      Seriously, google the phrase “touchy-feely liberally retards Democrats.”

      Aside from that, Thank you so much for such a well-written and objective article.

      And yes, FbL would be an incredible asset to any organization, charitable or otherwise. I thikn she’d be especially adept as a government contractor, specifically tasked with helping organizations establish charities to fill specific needs–this way if people wanted to start a charity to, say, give wool socks and hats to the children in Iraq, she could either help them in the finer points of organization and collaboration, or point them to winterclothesforArabkids.org, which already existed for that purpose. No point in “double tapping” needs-based charity.

      Or, one of these heavily endowed (like myself–um, nevermind) charities could utilize her in that very same role–albeit with a paycheck, the girl’s gotta eat!) and quickly find themselves far beyond their original expectations.

      I’m sorry I’ve been so loquacious(can you use loquacious when typing, if you’re talking-to-type?) here, but I wanted to thank you, Mark for your kind words, and you Beth, for all you do and continue to do, and Patti Bader for her herculean efforts, and all of the many merry milbloggers who’ve made this a noble effort for a worthy cause. Thank you all.

      Chuck

    • streeter

      Mark, I accidentally posted a comment about this piece in another comment stream. sorry.

      To sum it up: Great Work on the Major’s story.
      Next time I’ll read the blog rules first. Streeter

    • streeter

      Mark, I was pleased to read your post on Major(now) Ziegenfuss. His is an inspirational story and It is great to see the good one person can do if he just gets started.
      I have read Chuck’s story before and it motivated me to get started helping the Marines in Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego.

      i can put you in touch with the Command Master Chief there if you have any interest in pursuing these types of stories in the future.

      Good Work. Streeter Parker

    • I’m another of the MilBloggers Fuzzybear makes sure don’t forget about Valour-IT — the only button above theirs on my sidebar links to the Soldiers’ Angels site. Thank you for giving the program some exposure in circles outside the military/veteran community.

      ANGELS ROCK!!

    • Porter

      Has anyone considered using the OLPC units for distribution to soldiers? It occurs to me that if the idea is to get them basic web access, and the ability to blog and/or email that they might be suitable for the following reasons:

      1> Cost. Compared to standard laptops they are inexpensive.

      2> Size. The units are small, even compared to ultraportable class laptops. I am given to understand that space for personal effects can be at a premium.

      3> Ruggedness. Since they were constructed for developing markets they may be more tolerant of environmental conditions. Because they are designed for children – they may be more resistant to the periodic ding or drop.

      4> Connectivity. Wireless networking, and potentially mesh networking. Older laptops often have limited connectivity options.

      5> Power. The ability to run on lower amounts of energy – possibly critical when in the field and access to energy sources is restricted. When you’re at the tail end of a logistics chain, food and fuel can be a limited commodity.

      Something to think about in any case.

    • Keith

      I’ve got an un-used Dragon Naturally Speaking 5 voice activated software with headphone and mic. Is this something that would been needed. I’m willing to send it if it would help anyone, but i do not have a laptop only the Software to use on a computer.
      If this software can help anyone that has been wounded i’d be glad to mail it along.
      keith

    • Windy

      Hi there,
      I am a member of Soldiers Angels. On behalf of Patti Patton-Bader, the found of Soldiers Angels, and every soldiers angel, I would like to thank you for all you are doing for the Project Valour-IT. It is people like you that help to make this country great.

      God bless you all.

    • Windy

      Hi there,
      I am a member of Soldiers Angels. On behalf of Patti Patton-Bader, the found of Soldiers Angels, and every soldiers angel, I would like to thank you for all you are doing for the Project Valour-IT. It is people like you that help to make this country great.

      God bless you all.

    • As being a blogger I can feel the pain of loosing hands in any accident. I can’t even assume it for a moment. A soldier blogger has only this way to impress and aware us of their condition,problems and many things like this. I really appreciate the idea of introducing a software which could enable a blogger to record his statement in his laptop. A very nice blog.

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