Today, we have an interview with a blogger that makes a difference ... for the better. It's Laurie of Soldiers' Angel New York...
The panel is ready with their questions...
How did you get involved with Soldier's Angels?
I first heard about Soldiers' Angels in a chat room in early 2004. There was a guy there who read about it on Blackfive, and he had adopted a soldier. I signed up, and within a couple of days had the name of my first soldier, whom I later found out was a 20 year old South Carolina National Guardsman, a scout, gunner on a humvee.
What or Who inspired you to become a Soldiers' Angel?
I don't know that there is any single thing or person who inspired me. My oldest brother was in the National Guard way back when, but I was pretty young to really know much about that at the time. My Grandfather was a Regimental Sergeant Major in World War I, cavalry. That was when cavalry meant horses, not tanks. He served in France. He never talked too much about the war, but then, I was just a little girl. He did tell me about his horse. And he told me about one time he was supposed to go on a mission but he was very, very sick so somebody else went instead. The train his replacement went on, the one my Grandfather should have been on, got blown up. It was a munitions train. One of those things that makes you think. Just complete chance, or did God look down the tunnel of years and orchestrate that circumstance so I would be here in this exact place and time?
Anyway, after my grandmother died when I was 9, my grandfather lived with us part of the time. He would go to his sisters house in California in the winter and then in the summer he would take turns at our house and at 2 different uncle's houses up here. Until he couldn't travel anymore, then he stayed up here full time. When he did pass away, he had been staying at one of my uncle's. Now nobody knows where Grandpa's belongings went. It was one of those deals where uncle's wife had died, and I don't know what all family stuff was happening, there were step-kids.... but then my uncle met another woman and remarried and now he claims not to have or know anything about Grandpa's stuff. There were things Grandpa had from his time in the service, medals, patches, photos from all the years, and other things. According to my other uncle, you can't even ask about it. I don't know if maybe one of the step kids ended up with it or what. When I asked mom about writing to the Army for records, she said they thought all his records were gone in the fire at the Army records center in St. Louis. But I suppose it would be worth a try to write and request anything that might exist.
All we have is the flag from the funeral. It was in a drawer since 1980 until last year when I decided to get my mom a flag case for Christmas. And I had a plaque engraved for it with his name and rank and dates on it. That much info was on his grave marker at least. It's kind of sad, because I feel like a part of history is gone, unknown. I try to remember as much as I can about things he told me, but it wasn't that much to begin with, and as a kid, you never think how important it might be to you in later years. Thinking on it now, I wonder if he carried the weight of guilt about that other man's death with him all those years. From what I have read, back in that day your rank did not transfer with you if you changed regiments, so to reach Regtl Sgt Major, he was probably at least a Sgt during the war and was responsible for the welfare of other people. Who knew. He was just my Grandpa, ya know? He was very soft spoken, and I never heard him order anybody around... except Grandma, when he was hungry ;)
So, I think it is a combination of things that inspired me, a sense of not really knowing much about my Grandfather's service, and just general patriotism. I was a little kid when the Vietnam war ended and not knowing anyone who was active duty, I don't really remember specifically how vets were treated then, but I certainly learned about it as I grew up and don't ever want to see that happen again.
How/when did you get involved with Soldiers Angels?
It was early 2004 when I signed up with Soldiers' Angels. I had always felt that I'd like to support the troops, but I didn't know how. I didn't really know anybody directly that was in the service, and I didn't know what kind of programs were out there. When I did hear about Soldiers' Angels, I jumped in head first with supporting the troops, and by fall of that year they were putting together a "mentor team" to keep in touch with new members and show them the ropes. I wanted to volunteer for database work, but they needed mentors and I got talked into it, and it has been very rewarding. Then later I joined another of the management teams, and then found myself as a state regional manager. Duties of a regional manager are fundraising, and recruiting new members. So, are you a member of Soldiers' Angels? If not, why not?
Hobbies.... well, supporting the troops. I like to sing, and do so whenever I can, in church, community choirs, I even sang with a women's barbershop chorus for a couple of months one holiday season. I'm treasurer for my church. Occasionally ride my bicycle in a leisurely manner, I don't know if you can call that a hobby because I don't own all the latest gear and don't go more than a couple of miles at any time. I've been known to get addicted to computer games. I tinker around on the computer. I like to read, but when I read I do nothing else, the book goes everywhere with me.
What sitcom or cartoon best represents your life?
Growing up, the sitcom that best represented my life was "All In The Family". Dad was just like Archie Bunker, and Mom is a bit like Edith, except not ditzy. These days, I don't know. I'd like to be a superhero, or maybe Lara Croft.... oh, okay I admit digging around archaelogical sites doesn't sound that great, I'd just like to resemble Angelina Jolie.
Finally an easy question, food! I do like my food, all kinds, the more carbs the better ;) Pizza, anything Italian, the very Americanized Chinese and Mexican we get up here, potatoes, GRAVY! Darn, that reminds me, when I was up in northern NY this past week, I forget to stop in a diner for poutine. Chocolate, of course! I could go on.... the shorter list is the stuff I don't like.
Was the snow really gone out there back in April?
April was beautiful, the snow was indeed gone, and we had a lot of sunshine with seasonable temps. The lilacs bloomed right on schedule, mid-May for the Lilac Festival. Snowfall for the 05-06 season was only 73.9 inches, normal is about 100 inches. We did not win the "Golden Snowball Award" this year.
Snakes. Even though we don't have any poisonous ones here, I still have a very big aversion to them.
Have you met any of the Soldiers you have "adopted"?
No, I have never met any of the soldiers I adopted. Although I am still in touch via e-mail with a few of them.
Three favorite things?
Items or circumstances? I'm really fond of my family and my cat [attached picture of cat], so they should be on the list. Being with friends, especially if singing is involved. I really do enjoy the simple things in life, going to the ice cream shop for a chocolate ice cream cone rates up there.
What was said or done that made you realize that you were making a difference?
Probably receiving my first letter from a deployed soldier. And also just reading the different stories people tell on the Soldiers' Angels message boards or other "angel" blogs brings it home and makes me realize that each one is making a difference in their own small way, and that collectively, that makes a big difference for a lot of people. One person I was mentoring wrote me because she was discouraged that she never heard back from her soldier, and we always say keep writing anyway because many of them can't write back and those are the ones who sometimes need our support most. So later on she wrote back again and thanked me for the encouragement to keep going. This is what she wrote:
"Remember when I wrote to you and said that my soldier did not respond at all for the months that I supported him. Well, that changed this past Tuesday. I received a package from him that was wonderful. It had a letter telling me that he did not think he would have gotten through his deployment without me. Imagine that! He said he was so happy when he got my first box. Also, that he loved my letters. I was so down when I wrote you about not getting any responses. He also enclosed his name patch, US Army patch, Airborne patch, 190 pictures (computer key), etc. in the package. He said he wants to keep in touch with us and signed with "Much Love." So glad that I did not give up on him since he really needed us."
At the end of the year our Executive Director sent out some statistics, over 100,000 care packages sent in 2005, thousands of blankets for the wounded, over 100 family members flown to Germany when their loved one was injured, over 10,000 letters per month from the Letter Writing Team, the kevlar blankets, and the Project Valour-IT laptops, it's a lot! Hearing the individual stories is what is so amazing, and really makes it real to me. I mean, there's a big difference between hearing, they get laptops with voice activated software for the wounded.... and then talking to somebody like Chuck Z. and hearing directly from him what a difference Soldiers' Angels made in his life. (Recent story here)
Three things you like LEAST?
Brussel Sprouts, unforgiveness, being a perfectionist (this one can be either positive or negative depending on how you look at it).
When did you start blogging, and how easy was it?
I started blogging in November, 2005. Originally I thought it would be a good way to disseminate information to Soldiers' Angels members in New York, like a newsletter. However, I quickly realized that you would still have to e-mail everybody and tell them to read the website, the audience would be mainly other bloggers, not my originally intended target audience. It was fun though so I decided to stick with it. It was easy getting going because "angel" Holly Aho had everything all set up and got me up and running pretty quick. I had been reading her blog for awhile and some others, so I sort of knew the ins and outs of how blogging is done, I just needed a few lessons on etiquette and away I went. I already knew some html, and have played around with multi object oriented coding before, so the technical aspects were not hard for me.
Have you ever dated a military man?
No, I have never dated anyone in the military. However,I'm not against that idea. In fact, a few months ago I was talking to somebody and realized I really have sort of a "thing" for Marines, and remembered the reason why. This happened when I was, oh, I don't know, around 17 and very innocent even though I had a boyfriend. I went to my boyfriend's house and he wasn't there, but his 23 year old brother who had recently come home from the Marines was there. He pulled me into the lilac bushes and kissed me like I'd never been kissed before (and maybe even since). So, yeah, I'd say that is why I like Marines and lilacs. I think I only told maybe two people about that ever, and now the whole world knows. I hadn't thought about it for years and years until recently. (Guys from branches of service other than Marines may also apply)
What public figure is, in your opinion, the biggest Soldiers' Angel?
The biggest Soldiers' Angel is founder Patti Bader, of course. She is the heart of the organization, and a wonderful encouragement.
Favorite "war story?"
I've never been to a war, so I couldn't possibly have any war stories. Unless you are referring to personal disputes, and *those* stories are best left buried, along with the hatchet, of course.
If Paris Hilton continues with her evil plan to evict Fran O'Brien, where should the Friday night steaks be served? Congressional dining hall or the White House?
I wouldn't want the dinners served in either the White House or Congress, because I wouldn't want the politicians taking credit for it. Yes, there are some who are sincere troop supporters, but I think too many of them would try to use it as a political lever one way or the other. They couldn't duplicate the atmosphere of safety and acceptance that they had, either. Marty and Hal should continue to have the dinners, hopefully at a new Fran O'Brien's location soon.
Most embarrassing moment?
I spend my whole life trying to forget my most embarrassing moments, and you just have to ask..... Well it was probably when I was in high school (aren't they all?). I was in the color guard marching ahead of the school band. The person who usually led us couldn't be there that day, so I was in charge. And instead of having my usual wooden rifle to spin around, I had one of those dull swords, which I wasn't used to. I dropped the darn thing not once, not twice, but three times in front of a huge parade crowd.
What's the most fun you ever had with your clothes on?
The most fun... so many things are fun. Recently, the milblog conference in DC was fun, going to Alaska was fun, watching clouds on a warm summer day and figuring out what they look like is fun. Choir practice is fun. Hide and seek with the cat is fun. Do I have to pick just one?
Laurie, we thank you ... THANK YOU ... for your work as a Soldiers' Angel. And, of course, we appreciate your agreeing to the interview. It was fun ... and enlightening.
Next week, we have interviews scheduled with Bob Orr of Either Orr ... and with Agent Bedhead. Those should be fun!