Saturday was really the ONLY day of the Milblog conference, but Troy and I got in early to be able to attend some of the events and spread our message of You Served domination. So, when I say “Day 2” it’s really Day 1 – the only day. Since I already did a Day 1 post, that would be quite confusing and I make you as confused writing as I am on a daily basis, our entire societal structure would collapse in on itself, anarchy would prevail, and the nature of man would be forever confounded to the pursuit of learning how to create fire all over again. So, for the purposes of simplicity and out of a sense of service to mankind, I titled this post “Day 2”.
The day started WAY too early for me. I had to be up at 0630 to get everything packed and ready for the day. I say early because I didn’t get to bed until a little after 4am. Unfortunately, on Thursday I logged into my virtual classroom online (I’m studying Western Civilization) and wanted to check out my grades from the previous week’s work. To my horror, there was a great big “0” punctuated with a highlighted red hew for an essay that was supposed to have been turned in on Sunday.
Not only did I not know it was due on Sunday, I didn’t even know a paper was due! I scrambled to contact my professor and ask if there was any way to still submit the paper and I promised to have it within 48 hours. She gave me four days actually and I immediately began studying and gathering information about my topic, which was on the industrial revolution in Europe and its impact on society, specifically attitudes towards women in the workforce (it’s actually a very alarming period of time for women). I was up late on Thursday night studying, but had to be up early on Friday for the White House meeting. After the opening ceremonies and events Friday night, I retired like the nerd I am to my room while everyone else was busy getting “arrested” and “bailed out” to raise money for Soldiers Angels. I stayed up until well past 4am studying, gathering my thoughts, and submitting my paper. My professor told me I would only be penalized 20% and I had until Sunday to turn it in. I had it in Friday night/Saturday morning. Even if I only get a 40% on the paper, it’s better than a ZERO!
I finally got to bed at about 0430 and had to be back up at about 0630, which turned into 0700 by the time my red eyes contracted back to their normal state and the redness disappeared. To my benefit, I use my iPod as my alarm clock when I travel. I have it set to play the Static-X song “Night Terror”. It’s sort of the non de plume for my life in some ways, but if you don’t like heavy metal, you probably won’t be able to understand the lyrics. If you don’t wake up to Static-X music, you’re probably dead – but even then, it should awaken you! Static-X is one of my favorite bands. I love using their music in my military videos, but YouTube youscrewed me by removing audio from too many of them. So, now I just upload my videos to GreatAmericans.com (shameless plug for an absolutely amazing site!).
By the way, I didn’t mention the At War film screening we had on Friday night in my previous blog. I was going to leave that to Troy, but I just want to say a few things about this film. Up until last night, I would say that Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan were about as close to accurately depicting combat operations as any other film I’ve ever seen. Those two films never cease to get my heart pumping and completely immerse me in the sights and sounds of what actual combat is really like. But, I have to say that At War truly affected me. Not only is the only film I’ve seen that really tells the story of what we’re up against these days, but it doesn’t sugar coat anything. Scott Kesterson follows both Canadian (God bless our Canadian brothers and sisters in arms) and American troops through ETT operations in Afghanistan. The combat scenes alone were difficult for me to watch. I’m glad the room as dark as I didn’t shatter any teeth from clinching my mouth so much. I made my fingers start to bleed from peeling some of the skin from around the nails in nervousness.
And when the film showed the ramp ceremony scenes, I wanted to retreat as quickly as possible. Not because I’m offended or afraid of seeing these things, but because it’s personal for me. I made a dumb decision to sit in the second from the front row and I didn’t feel like I could escape. My only defense was to bend over, stare at the ground, and will my ears to stop functioning. I’m absolutely convinced – a flip-flop on my part – that EVERY American needs to see these ramp ceremonies. Not for any voyeuristic purpose but to truly appreciate the sacrifice of our troops and the dignity we give to that sacrifice as a military. Unfortunately, even if America were able to see these ceremonies, too many idiots and boneheads would still use them for political and activist purposes. And that’s just sad. While I was able to resist my fight or flight instincts and remain throughout the whole film, I seriously questioned whether or not I was going to make it through. The movie was that good, if that makes any sense at all.
Anyway, back to Saturday. I got up, took a shower, packed my bag, got dressed, and headed up to the conference center (in that order!). I helped Andi and others set up the conference room and staked my claim at the head of the audience with my laptop and camera.
In the lobby, the many vendors and sponsors were still setting up: GreatAmericans.com, Military One Source, Military.com, Soldiers Angels and BAE Industries (if I missed any, please correct me. I forgot to take notes on this).
I don’t have a lot of specifics from the actual panels, but if you check out the @YouServed Tweets from Saturday, you can get the scoop. The segments that stood out to me were the Iraq phone in from Major General David Oates and the “Taking Care of Veterans” panel. However, they were all very good and I tried to ask each panel at least one question.
In between panels, Troy and I circulated around for our first ever “Two Facts, One Lie” game in which we approached attendees and asked them questions about other bloggers. They had to choose which one out of three statements was a lie about a particular blogger. To our amazement, everyone got them all right until we got to Matt from Blackfive who completely bombed it! Then Matt from American Soldier bombed it, but we gave it to him on a technicality since Chuck Ziegenfuss didn’t REALLY clone his son; he just happens to be a spitting image of him. So, we gave that one to him.
We also debuted a new program that will kick off on May 15th here on You Served called “On Loan To You Served”. The aim of the program is to get a collection of milbloggers, the first 15 that sign up, to agree to write for You Served as a guest blogger for a two-week stint. They can write pretty much whatever they want, link back to their blogs, and even stay longer if they choose. In addition to this, Troy and I will bring them on our radio show to highlight their personal blogs and bring more exposure to them.
There is a two-way benefit to this. You Served gets to enjoy the contributions of recognized bloggers that will inevitably draw a little bit more traffic to the site. In return, these bloggers will enjoy the benefit of getting additional exposure from the readers and listeners of You Served to their respect blogs. It’s a good symbiotic relationship that “served” to benefit everyone. At the end of the two weeks, the bloggers can go about their merry way or perhaps continue to post as a guest or featured bloggers. When the program ends at an as yet to be determined date, we will randomly select one of those bloggers who will have their way paid to attend the 2010 Milblog Conference! What’s there to lose?
More than one person asked me what the intentions were behind VAMC’s support of milbloggers and the You Served brand. I can’t speak officially for the VA Mortgage Center, but I can tell you what I think based on my history with them. I got to know VAMC when they held a contest looking for the “best milblog”. A Soldier’s Perspective won first place in that contest. To be completely honest with you, I was in it for the money. Marcus and I were trying to raise money for a Marine Corps ballet class to purchase life-size cut-outs of the Marine moms and dads to attend their recital since they were deployed and could not be there in person. Additionally, they needed to purchase costumes. As the winner of the contest, ASP received $3500 from VAMC and three other blogs received $500 each for being in the top five.
All the winners were given the opportunity to be guest bloggers at their new milblog, You Served. This was a brand new endeavor for VAMC. They were venturing into unchartered territory with this contest. It also just happened to be that during that same time period, I was in the market for a new home as I was about to PCS. My last VA home loan process was entirely too long, laborious, and confusing. I decided to give VAMC a shot. I don’t blindly endorse anything, especially a mortgage company.
The VAMC veteran home loan process was a piece of cake. They took care of practically everything. Other than verifying income and financial data, they took care of practically all paperwork. I was assigned a personal loan officer and he walked me through the whole process. Nate Long, who is now the CEO of VAMC, was available to handle any questions I had, any time I had them. When we came to an unexpected snag due to a previous VA loan issue (I was PCS’d within the VA loan established timelines for renting out or reselling properties, which I couldn’t help), Nate quickly took aggressive actions to keep me informed and work through the issues. The result was a quick, painless, and satisfying process unlike my previous experience with the VA loan process.
With the addition of an absolutely amazing realtor in Huntsville (Ron Tyra), I bought my house almost completely sight unseen. Don’t worry, I had friends in the local area that helped me out. The result was that I was able to close literally within 72 hours of arriving at my new duty station. That saved me ten days of permissive TDY looking for homes and working through loans.
As I said, I’ve been working with VAMC for a couple of years now and I think I truly understand their motivations. Don’t get me wrong, they obviously want your business and having people come to a blog will potentially drive potential customers to their products, but I talk with these guys almost daily and they’ve NEVER asked me to plug their mortgages or other products. I have provided them with humorous videos explaining why VAMC support of YouServed and the milblogging community is so important. I also plan to record something for them about my experiences using their products.
VAMC honestly just wants to support the military community. They recently supported a “Milblogger Bailout” where they paid for bloggers on third-party domains like Blogger.com and WordPress.com to purchase their own domain name and provided one year of paid hosting for it – no strings attached. This conference marks the second time they have paid to send bloggers to a Milblog Conference to write about the event. I just think the employees at VAMC are supportive of our troops. They believe in the purpose of our bloggers, as discussed during the conference, to tell the military story. They agree that without us, America and the world would be oblivious. Because of us, the entire Department of Defense and two White House administrations have taken notice. They truly want to support that and if they happen to get an extra customer or two, the better, but I don’t think that is an overwhelming motivation. I could be wrong, but my experience doesn’t prove that.
Okay, enough of that unpaid advertisement! Hehe. Now, on to another unpaid announcement:
I was so excited to see GreatAmericans.com as a sponsor at the conference. Matt Daniels, Greg Schindler and the rest of the company are showing the internet how to do it right. Whereas Ranger Up figured out how to do t-shirts and other apparel right, Great Americans have broken the mold on online videos. Their website is the epitome of inspiration, motivation and espirit de corps. It’s full of 100% positive and uplifting videos about America’s heroes in the armed forces, police force, firefighters, and other uniformed (and some non-uniformed) services. My frustration with YouTube is the utter negativity that is pervasive on the site. I hate that some of my videos get “associated” with anti-war or completely contrary videos.
I’ll have more from the conference in my next post. I think I’ve gone on long enough here for those that are still awake.