Monday, June 16, 2008

I'm Wondering If People Know How Much Work It Is

If you are a dedicated reader of this not-updated-nearly-enough-to-expect-loyal-readers blog, you know that Greg and I founded and run a nonprofit organization called Pro vs. GI Joe. There have been times when I've written about how proud we are of it - and that's true. I've also written about progress we've made - and that's true. But I've never elaborated on just how difficult it is to get a NONPROFIT (meaning, NO PROFIT) organization up and running. Especially one that requires advanced technology, access to celebrities and professional athletes (often times with annoying and aggressive publicists and managers in the way), and cooperation from our military at war. Oh, and there are just two of us working the beat - in addition to other jobs that actually pay the bills.

Now, I'm not saying this to warrant pity. I'm just not sure, based on conversations I've had recently, that people realize how much work it is. Because we are a nonprofit, we rely solely on donations, contributions and more than anything else, a belief in what we are doing.

In case you don't know, this is what we do: We set up real-time video game competitions between professional athletes in the states and troops stationed overseas via the internet using XBox Live. Basically, we connect soldiers to athletes in real-time for some good hearted and fun competition!

Sounds like it should be cut and dry, right? Not so much.

First you have to have a website because when you talk to people about your biz, they understandably ask to be directed to it. Good websites, the kind that give you some cred, are not cheap. So then you have to basically pitch your nonprofit to a company that produces them and hope they believe in what you do - and HOPE they donate it out of the goodness of their heart. We found that with AWS Sports (our FIRST believer!!), though there was some cost to us. Then you have to file for the 501c3 status with the Federal Government and it is not easy - especially when you have little to no experience in the nonprofit world! That also costs hundreds of dollars - and there is no donation for this!

So once you're a few thousand dollars in the hole, you can start making calls to companies and corporations you feel would appreciate what you're offering people - in this case, our troops. That is about as easy as getting a professional athlete on the phone. It's incredibly difficult and requires tenacity, persistence, and a certain amount of bravery. You also have to be on your game because their time is valuable and if you do get them on the phone, your first pitch has to be a good one. I've spent a lot of time speaking in front of people, but it's daunting knowing that if you don't sell it quickly, you will lose them quickly...and you NEED these people because you are hoping to use THEIR resources (product and money) to grow your organization.

Bottom line is, a year after coming up with the idea, we are now planning our first competition between professional athlete and soldiers stationed in Iraq. The road we've taken to get here has been challenging, frustrating, tiresome, and awesome...and we've got a lot of people and companies on our team...but we need more.

We need donations. We need financial sponsorships. We need athletes. We need celebrities. We need more website traffic.

I'm not expecting people to open up their wallets and purses and give it all to us! I guess I just want people to know that when you dedicate yourself to improving the lives of others, it's a lot of work - and in the nonprofit world, there is little to no compensation for the work you do. And trying to figure out how to get money in order to make your vision a reality is trial and error...and soooo hard to figure out. You basically have to go to a company and/or corporation and tell them why they should spend their money on you instead of the hundreds of others that ask for it.


Most people know the difference between supporting the war and supporting the troops but believe me, some people don't!! And when you finally get someone on the phone and you say you're from a "nonprofit organization" [translation: "we want free stuff"], they are immediately skeptical!

I could go on and on about the challenges and I probably will as we plan events and travel the country connecting our GI JOES to our PROS. It's incredibly rewarding and we do it because we KNOW we are unique. We KNOW you will love it. We KNOW the athletes and celebrities will love it. We KNOW the companies/corporations will love it.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

I'm On A Jet Plane

I'm leaving Iraq tonight...and should be home in about two weeks. I will follow this up with a longer post very soon but I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who read this during my deployment. I didn't post nearly as much as I'd hoped I would but I won't stop simply because I am leaving. There are still stories to tell and I will post them here.

More from Kuwait...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fallen Soldier’s Family Shows Iraqis Love

I love this family. I would like to think I could be this selfless if ever tested the way the Barnes family has been. I don't need to explain it now; just read this story written by Staff Sergeant Tony Lindback from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). This is an incredible family....and an amazing community. It's just unbelievable.

PATROL BASE YUSIFIYAH, Iraq – Whoever said violence begets more violence never met the family of Sgt. Nathan Barnes. American Fork, Utah, native Sgt. Nathan Barnes, a Soldier with 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, was killed in Rushdi Mullah, Iraq, when his unit came under attack by small-arms fire July 17. Rather than hold bitterness toward the people of a foreign land where their son died, Barnes’ family is embracing them. Barnes often sent home photos of children in the areas he served. His father, Kevin, said Nathan truly loved the Iraqi children. Nathan’s love for those children inspired his father and other residents of American Fork to collect enough donated items to fill a 40-foot shipping container. Sewing machines, book bags, newborn kits, personal hygiene items, food, toys, children and women’s clothing, school supplies and even wheelchairs were donated to residents in and around Rushdi Mullah and Yusifiyah, places Barnes did most of his service in Iraq. Rushdi Mullah, where Barnes was killed, is one of the communities now supported by Rakkasan Soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). The Rakkasans took on the task of distributing the items once the shipping container arrived in Iraq. Company C, 3-187th Inf. Regt., distributed some of the gifts at a school in Mullah Fayad, an impoverished Yusifiyah community. Santa Barbara, Calif., native 1st Lt. Casey Zimmerman, who helped hand out the donations at the school, wanted everyone to know the source of the aid. “I made a point at the beginning to convey who Nathan Barnes was, how he died, and what kind of loving family and country he belonged to,” Zimmerman said. “I bet we saw over 1,500 men, women, and children – mostly children.” The generosity of the Barnes family and the American Fork community led to a similar address in Rushdi Mullah by Brig. Gen. Ali Jassim Muhammad Hassen Al Frejee, commander of the 25th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division. “A Soldier who came from thousands of miles away and was killed here – his family spends money to rebuild this area,” Ali said. “We have to respect that.” Capt. Clifford Kazmarek, commander of Company B, 3-187th Inf. Regt., said the experience was remarkable and humbling. “I have just the greatest amount of respect for that family for doing this, and I know that the people here truly appreciate it,” Kazmarek said. The citizens received most items with a smile and without hesitation. But there was one gift that had many children puzzled. “The Frisbee befuddled them,” said Pittsburgh native Capt. Michael Starz, commander of Co. C, 3-187th Inf. Regt. “They didn’t quite grasp the concept. They thought it was a serving plate so we had to engage with the kids for a few throws until they got the idea. In the end, though, they still said, ‘Where’s the football?’” There were many footballs – soccer balls to Americans – handed out as well. Thousands of Iraqis from Rushdi Mullah and Mullah Fayad benefited from the generosity. “I never imagined a family – American or otherwise – could provide unmitigated charity to the people of a foreign town in which their son was killed,” Zimmerman said. “The Barnes family and those who have contributed to their noble foundation are true testaments to America's values.”

God Bless Nathan and his family. Thank you for your sacrifice and kindness.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Something I Should've Done Months Ago

Every day I spend here in Iraq, I hear (but mostly read) stories about the GOOD things that are happening in this country. No, I am not hearing it from one of the four televisions perched up on the wall in the Media Operations Center at 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters in Baghdad. No, no, that would be silly. That would mean one of the Big Four networks would break from the norm and actually produce a story on the progress being made. Let me also say I realize that stories about the new Fish Farm Association in North Babil that employs thousands of local citizens to produce seven million pounds of much needed fish for Baghdad residents isn't as sexy as a story about a female suicide bomber strapping on a vest and killing herself and several Iraqis in their home. I get it. I make my living in television. I like to think I have a good understanding of what will and won't make the news.

But that doesn't make my job any easier.

In addition to being a journalist, I am also responsible for Media Relations. In fact, that is ALL I do down here under the 3rd Infantry Division. My job is to push our story to local and national media outlets as well as the Baghdad Bureaus here in Iraq. Let me just say this: it is no easy task.

Day in and day out, I sit behind a desk and call, email, and schmooze Baghdad media so they'll pay attention to the progress being made in the 3rd Infantry Division's Area of Operation - an area rougly the size of West Virginia.

3ID is part of last year's surge. It is the main division efforting (I don't know if this is a verb the military made up or a real word but I use "efforting" a lot here) the surge. 3ID's mission is to block accelerants (insurgents/terrorists/militias) into Baghdad, secure the population, and defeat sectarian violence in order to create conditions for long term Iraqi self-reliance.

For almost 14 months now, with almost 20,000 soldiers, 3ID has served remarkably, kicking down doors of terrorist safehouses, killing the enemy while protecting the popoulation, living on barely functioning patrol bases and combat outposts established in order to live among Iraqi communities (to better protect citizens from terrorists/insurgents). They are basically sacrificing the comforts and relative safety offered on a FOB (Forward Operation Base) to ensure a more stable life for Iraqis.

I don't say this to garner sympathy and/or pity for these soldiers; I say this to paint a better picture about what life is like out here.

The point is, that despite all the horrid images you see on the news - things that DEFINITELY occur out here - there are small miracles happening every day as well - and somewhere, in some province or holy city or farming community, SOLDIERS are providing a better life for IRAQIS. I'm telling you, it's happening. That doesn't mean the bad stuff isn't is...but so are these stories and though you rarely hear about them, they are happening.

How do I know this if I am sitting behind a desk? Because every day, military journalists (myself included) risk their lives to tell the stories the mainstream media are reluctant to tell. I'm not naive; I get WHY they don't tell these stories. There are limited minutes and more important stories in the world to tell; If it bleeds, it leads; Polygamists, Popes, and Primaries take the top slots. Believe me, I get it. And I don't think everyone is reluctant to tell the stories; just the ones who ultimately make the decisions.

So that is why I've decided, in all of my frustration in not being able to deliver good news to Major Conway (truly, the best media relations officer I've ever met in the military and my boss), that I would post the good stories I can't sell to the Big Four on my blog.

I may have a relatively small audience, but if you spread the word, perhaps the audience will grow and the Big Four will see there are people out there who care about what we, the SOLDIERS, are doing EVERY SINGLE DAY to make this a better place for the people of Iraq. For us, it's not about politics; it's about caring and helping and compassion. It's about the value of another human life.

It's no wonder the powers-that-be at the Big Four aren't sold on these stories. They aren't the ones meeting these wonderful men and women, children, babies - Iraqis...touching them, hugging them, drinking chai with them, rebuilding with them, talking with them. They have no idea what their life is like, what OUR life is like.

So since they won't tell our story, we will. I should have done this months ago.

The following is a story written by SGT Kevin Stabinsky of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division on FOB Kalsu, Iraq. This is a wonderful story and not one media outlet picked up on it, despite my best efforts. From now on, I will post these stories here...and I ask you to spread the word if they touch you...or even if they don't. This is the kind of work your American soldiers do in addition to ridding this place of bad guys. They deserve recognition.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq - Her hands run across his hand, her fingers explore his features. She asks her father: Is he fat or skinny? Tall or short? She is trying to learn about the man she cannot see, the one who strives to end the mystery surrounding him and the world around her. First Lt. Michael Kendrick, platoon leader of 2nd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, said it is his goal to replace the mental picture young Noor Taha Najee has of her father with the actual image. Noor, a 5-year-old girl who lives in al Buaytha, has been blind since birth, a condition caused by poorly-developed corneas, said her father Taha. It is a problem which runs in the family. Taha's brother, Mustafa, also suffers from the birth defect, one that prevents the eyes from registering anything other than light sensitivity. Although the condition is genetic, it is one that can be fixed through surgery. Kendrick, a native of Phoenix, Ariz., and his unit have been working closely with doctors to try to get something done for the family. "To have her see her family, her brothers, to put a face to the voice, it would be a blessing," Taha said of the opportunity to help give sight to his daughter and brother. The Eye Defects Research Foundation, a nongovernmental organization based in Los Angeles, is already trying to schedule a surgery for the girl. On March 14, the Soldiers took Noor and her uncle to the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad to get an evaluation done on the two, which showed a higher potential for success with Noor. "We're on standby now, waiting for a doctor in L.A.," Kendrick said. He said they are now trying to find a local Iraqi doctor who would be willing to travel with Noor and her family to California. An Iraqi doctor is needed who could be shown the necessary follow-up care. Such a gift would seem appropriate for a girl who is described as very generous and giving by her father. "She's different from many other kids," Taha said. "She's always sharing. She'll give you anything." It is a personality trait which has endeared her to the 2nd Platoon Soldiers. "We've taken a real vested interest in the people here," Kendrick said, adding his Soldiers spend a lot of time on the ground, interacting with residents. "We empathize with the people. It pays dividends winning the hearts and minds. It keeps things quiet." Noor has developed quite an attachment to Kendrick, Taha said. "She likes to sit by him, and is always asking me about him and loves it when I tell her stories about him," he said. "She's only like that with Kendrick." As a father of two young girls himself - Presley, 3, and Parker, 1, Kendrick said he knows the importance of family and providing for them. While she may not be able to see what the Soldiers are doing for her, Taha said Noor can definitely sense the good will of Kendrick's platoon. "Love begins in the mind, not the eyes," Taha said.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Snapshot Of My Life

Yesterday was the sandiest day I've spent in the two years I have lived in this country. Unfortunately, it was also the day we packed all of our equipment in the Connex and we had to be outside ALL DAY LONG. I can't pretend I had it the worst, however. I had to be in the office periodically to work on Media Embeds and an upcoming Media Lunch in the Green Zone. The majority of the 302nd, on the other hand, had sand in every.single.crevice.

We're all coughing and wheezing today. Go figure. It was insane. And ORANGE!!

Just Another Video...

Just trying to post some additional videos from my time here. We have just a few weeks left in this sandy country...

This is a Thanksgiving video I made for my hubby and family. It's months old, obviously, but it's still relevant as the music behind it, Michael Buble's "HOME" is especially meaningful because it's soon going to be a reality!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Women's Military Appreciation

Wow, I'm terrible!! Sorry, it's been a VERY BUSY few months. I am now in Baghdad working with the 3rd Infantry Division. It's different...but good.

Here is a special I produced to celebrate women in the military in honor of Women's History Month. We've come a long way since the days of Deborah Sampson. Enjoy.