Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Microsoft honoring those who help those who serve

Microsoft Corporation, in partnership with the United Service Organizations (USO), is recognizing the contributions of the military community - the friends, family, and other individuals who help brighten the lives of U.S. troops throughout the world - with the creation of the first annual Above and Beyond Awards.

There are five categories: Effort, Medical Attention, USO Promotion and Success, Everyday Difference, and Youth. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I am familiar with several of the finalists. I encourage you to make up your own mind and cast your votes HERE, but here are my choices:

Effort Award
Although Patty Bader-Smith is a finalist in this category, and I respect the hell out of what she's accomplished with Soldier's Angels... my vote goes to Marty Horn, founder of
The web site offers an easy way for ordinary Americans to send care packages to soldiers abroad – everything from sunscreen and energy bars to bullet-proof vests. On the site, supporters can fulfill soldiers’ specific requests (many of them ask for goodies and school supplies to give to children they encounter on patrol).

Since its founding, the site has connected nearly 30,400 people to help more than 896,000 service members and has received 8,674,419 visits. Anysoldier has been commended by military generals and President Bush.

Medical Attention
This one was tough. The choices are a retired helicopter pilot or an Army Mom who left her private trauma therapy practice to teach civilian and military counselors how to treat PTSD patients. My choice? The pilot, Walter Fricke.

A helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, Walter Fricke founded The Veterans Airlift Command ( to provide free air transportation for wounded and recovering troops and veterans with their families through a national network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots.

Here's part of his nomination, by a US Army Sergeant:
“I lost both of my legs when an Improvised Explosive Device exploded under my Humvee, killing two of my best friends. This was a devastating blow. I believe that the healing doesn’t truly start until you are with loved ones. Walt’s organization“[Veteran’s Airlift Command] flew my mother-in-law and father-in-law with my two sons (ages 5 and 6) when I needed them the most. We were never in a financial situation where we could afford to fly my children back and forth to Minnesota. Walt had a portion of his lower leg blown off in the Vietnam War, so he understands what it is like to be wounded and far away from home."

USO Promotion and Support
I was torn between Maureen and Paulette, but in the end, Paulette got my vote. Meet Paulette Nelson of Savannah, Georgia.

Paulette works for the Savannah U.S.O., and her unofficial headquarters is the Savannah Airport. She makes sure that she is there every time a plane carrying soldiers arrives, and when a plane carrying soldiers leaves.

Paulette does all this as a volunteer, offering her cell phone so soldiers can make that last call home before deploying. She and her husband Bill built three cottages on their property known as “Triple J” to house three soldiers they know from the 3rd Infantry Division. All of these men are currently deployed, but the Nelsons make sure they always have a home to come back to. In Savannah, soldiers coming back from overseas take busses that pass Paulette’s house back to the base. Her children stand on the highway waving “Welcome Home” signs.

Everyday Difference
This one took me by surprise. I almost missed the name Todd Schmidt, but as soon as I read the first line of his nomination, I knew EXACTLY who he was. Todd is one of the first soldiers I ever adopted from Marty Horn's Todd, a Major in the US Army, registered to support his troops. He sent me a Christmas card from Afghanistan that I still have to this day. Todd recognizes the importance of taking care of his troops, their supporters, and those his troops are fighting for. I respect the hell out of this man in case you couldn't tell.

During his most recent deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom, he founded a non-profit organization, Operation Dreamseed ( Its initial mission was to provide school supplies for impoverished Afghani children, but it has grown a lot in just four years.

Today, hundreds of volunteers and donors from across the U.S. have sent hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of math textbooks, school supplies, and secondhand clothes to Afghanistan, and they’ve begun sending school supplies to local villages in Iraq and Kosovo. Under Todd’s leadership, Operation Dreamseed has even helped build a school outside Kandahar City by raising over $80,000 for the cause.

I am so proud of Todd and what he's accomplished. SO proud. He made sure that the donations are distributed by US soldiers as a way to build goodwill and trust with the locals. This is a leader we cannot forget. He's truly amazing.

Youth Leadership
Four kids were finalists in this category. Two, a brother and sister, I've heard a lot about already. Brittany and Robbie Bergquist have collected thousands of used cell phones which they sent overseas. Cool kids. VERY. However.. they did not get my vote. My vote went to 10-year-old Colton Lockner.

Ten-year-old Colton Lockner is the grandson of two war veterans and has an aunt and uncle currently in active service. It is for those reasons he has such passion and support for the troops. For the past two years, he has spearheaded and organized a Freedom Walk as part of the America Supports You 9/11 program to honor military men and women in his hometown. In 2006, Colton turned out nearly half of Sebring’s 4,900 residents for the Freedom Walk, talking up local business owners, school officials, community leaders and elected officials, including the town mayor and his state senators.

In 2007, he organized a Knit Hat and Blanket Drive through his school to send to injured soldiers. Colton collected ten large boxes of hats, blankets and bug repellant. He has led several letter-writing campaigns that generated more than 1,000 letters of encouragement and hope to troops overseas through his fourth grade class (for members of the 28th CSH medical unit stationed in Baghdad) and by setting up a table at the 2007 Freedom Walk for people to write postcards.

Colton is well on his way to becoming a leader in this country. He has more patriotism, dedication, loyalty, creativity, and marketing skills than most adults- and he's only 10!!! Holy cow.

So, there you have it. My choices for Microsoft's Above and Beyond Awards. You can make up your own mind, but I encourage you to go vote.


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