13 May, 2007

MilBlog Conference and Valour-IT

Part of what made last weekend's MilBlog Conference so wonderful was the opportunities for highlighting Valour-IT/Soldiers' Angels and interacting with my fellow Angels. Friday night brought a surprise donation, Saturday lunch included Chuck's powerful telling of how it all started, and Sunday meant a BBQ at Walter Reed where the 1000th Valour-IT laptop was presented.

Yeah, it was an emotional weekend, but mostly in the best of ways. And most of it was a complete surprise to me...

Friday night at the reception, John Noonan stood up to announce the MilBloggies: “USAA [a conference sponsor] has provided prizes for the winners. Along with a digital camera, each winner will have $1000 donated in their name to Project Valour-IT.” The crowd gasped a bit and cheered. I about passed out right there--$8,000 for Valour-IT (over 10 laptops) in one fell swoop!

After I gave my little speech, I walked back into the crowd with my hands shaking from residual adrenaline. I looked up to see two guys I didn’t know making a beeline for me, trailed by a guy with a camera. They reached for my hands, congratulating me on my MilBloggie as pictures are taken, and telling me they’d been looking for a way to support the troops and they think Valour-IT is amazing. There's much more they're going to do with Soldiers' Angels and Valour-IT. I’m still stunned [one of them was the guy who showed up later at SpouseBUZZ].

At lunch the next day, I’ve barely finished my food when John Donovan (who has been working the politicians over Valour-IT) steps up to “hand out some awards and gifts that Soldiers’ Angels and others would like to bestow. And I’m going go ugly early. FbL, please come up here” (it wasn’t a request).

Embarrassing levels of applause ensue and I figure I’m getting a little plaque or something from Patti Bader. Not quite. Strangely, John starts talking about his recent visit with his congressional representative. I then realize there is a folded flag laying on the podium. As I’m pondering that odd fact, he starts reading, "This is to certify that this flag was flown over the United States Capitol on May 3, 2007, at the request of the Honorable Nancy E Boyda, Member of Congress.” I’m positively floored, and at the words "in honor of Soldiers' Angels and Valour-IT in recognition of their tremendous work," I nearly tear up.

Being recognized for something you've thrown your heart and soul into is always nice, but what really hit me at that point was that this was another indicator of how big it's gotten and how many people we've been able to help, thanks to all the wonderful bloggers in that room--and how many people have become involved in order to make it happen at all.

I have barely a moment to sit before I’m called up again to receive a plaque along with the other Soldiers’ Angels present.

And then the emotions get to be too much as Chuck starts to talk about how he was wounded and how Valour-IT got started and what it meant to him to have that first voice-controlled laptop. He says of using it, "For the first time since I'd woken up in the hospital, I felt whole again."

Valour-IT didn’t yet exist, but his experience inspired it, underlining the project’s impact and value, and I’m overwhelmed to think that by the next day we will have helped a total of 1,000 wounded warriors just like Chuck. His words about what a voice-controlled laptop meant to his psyche and his recovery wring my heart. But the kicker is to hear from Chuck’s own mouth how he nearly died and how he felt in recovery, and I am in tears as I think about how close it was, how far he has come in two years, and what his leadership and inspiration have meant to so many other wounded warriors.

I have to consciously resist the urge to walk up to the podium as he still talks and embrace him. Looking between him and Carren’s face fifteen feet from me painted in love and pride as she watches him, I am once again in awe of their strength and courage, and so proud to call them my friends. When he turns and hugs me at the end of his speech, it's one of the best hugs of my life. He is such a wonderful spokesman and living testimony for Valour-IT.

Sunday at Walter Reed involved more emotion and attention for Valour-IT (and more powerful speechifying by Chuck), but it's gonna take another long post to explain all that. I'll leave it for tomorrow.