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America Supports You: 'Angels' Provide Wounded Troops with Laptops

By Ashleigh Covington
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 17, 2006 – An Internet community of support for troops overseas has arisen from one mother's concern that some of her son's fellow servicemembers were not receiving mail or the support they needed from home.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
A servicemember poses with "Soldiers Angels" volunteers after receiving a laptop courtesy of Project Valour-IT. Project Valour-IT provides wounded troops with voice-activated laptops to use during their recovery. Courtesy photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Patti Patton-Baden founded "Soldiers' Angels" in December 2003 after she began writing a few extra letters to members of her son's deployed unit in Iraq.

More than 80,000 "angels" now are registered all over the world, not including the many schools, churches and other organizations that participate as communities.

Soldiers' Angels' main goal is to provide all soldiers with the supplies and support they need in order to serve and protect the country from harm. The group is a member of the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program, which showcases Americans' efforts to support servicemembers and their families.

Committed to the motto, "May no soldier go unloved," the organization provides services to cater to the needs of active troops as well as those wounded in combat. One such mission, "Project Valour-IT," provides wounded troops with laptops to use from their homes and hospital beds. Since its launch in August 2005, the organization has presented 500 computers to wounded servicemembers all over the country.

Inspired by Capt. Chuck Ziegenfuss, who was wounded serving as a tank company commander in Iraq in June 2005, Patton-Baden felt to the laptops would serve as a therapeutic tool for troops as they recovered.

During his deployment, Ziegenfuss kept an Internet blog, capturing his experiences in Iraq for many loyal readers. But after his return home, serious hand injuries prevented him from posting more updates during his recovery. That left him no way to communicate with his unit still in Iraq.

"He wasn't Chuck, the aggressive talking Army man we knew, and I thought we just can't go on this way. So we got him a laptop, and he contacted a company and got the voice-activation software," Baden said. "As soon as he got it, he was up and blogging. He called me within 24 hours, and his voice was clear and he was excited. He was a whole different Chuck."

The laptops are delivered personally by registered angels, and contain special software suited to each servicemember's needs. Project Valour IT's initial goal is to give all wounded troops it "adopts" the opportunity to receive a laptop to use during their recovery.

The project's members have teamed up with DoD's Computer Assisted Purchasing, or CAP, program, which provides software and voice recognition and adaptive keyboards to soldiers, said retired Lt. Col. James Riley, program director. "We have partnered with them in order to get software loaded on some of the laptops that we have or to provide them with a modified keyboard."

The laptops help wounded servicemembers keep in touch with their comrades and report on their conditions and give them the incentive to go back to school.

"Primarily, the soldiers want to get online and log in to the (Army Knowledge Online) site and e-mail their buddies back in Iraq and Afghanistan or their friends back home and tell them what's happening and what's going on," Riley said. "A lot of them use the computers to go back to school, and it helps them get back in school, and it starts them on a new career path."

Each laptop, including shipping and handling costs $660. All the money donated and raised for Project Valour-IT goes directly toward the computers, and the program receives many generous donations daily.

"These programs are important to remind troops that they are loved," Riley said. "Their patriotism and sacrifice have not gone unnoticed."

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