Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Long Road Home" benefit goes beyond tonight's 7:30 p.m. special

I'm so excited that today is finally here. I've put a lot of time into tonight's special, "The Long Road Home," but I'm equally excited for the on-line community for local military families that I've sought more several years .. and that we're launching today!

As for the special, we recorded it last week at Channel 3's "Studio B" in Cleveland. "Studio B" is where we tape shows like Good Company and many of our locally-produced sports shows. ("Studio A" as you may have guessed is directly next door and it's where we tape the evening news broadcasts).

I'm a bit nervous to be honest. It's one thing to put together a 1:30 daily news story or even a 3:30 sweeps investigation. This is a 30-minute, in-depth special. I approached Channel 3 management with my idea just a month ago and they quickly gave it the go-ahead. It's a good feeling when you know that your bosses have faith in you and believe in your projects as passionately as you do.

Beyond following the readjustments of five local service members, the special also allowed me to look at how a local campus is educating its teachers about PTSD so they can help their students who are coping. I was also able to interview a VA psychologist (a Vietnam Vet himself) who is treating our new veterans each day.

Hopefully, the military families and their friends who watch this special will feel comfort in knowing that they're not alone in this journey-after-the-journey. I know that it took a full 6-9 months for me to feel normal after my deployment, so I'll be honest that this special was quite cathartic for me.

Beyond yellow ribbons

Last fall, long before I interviewed service members for the special, I went to Channel 3's leaders with the idea of creating a website where military families could connect with other families and also with the public who wants to support them.

The idea came from the phone calls that I received every other day.

A local girl scout troop called me to say they had 500 boxes of cookies and they'd like to send them directly to a local unit in Iraq. Can you help us find one since you're a veteran?

Meanwhile, a military wife emailed me telling me that her husband's unit in the war zone really needed a microwave. Is there any way you could get the word out to local businesses that might donate one?

I often felt helpless when military families would email that "My son is on his way home from Iraq for the first time in 10 months and we'd really like to let the community know so they can come out to the Akron-Canton Airport tonight at 9:35 p.m."

All of these were items of great importance to the people involved, but often, none were items that I could put on the evening news.

I kept thinking that there's got to be a way for the "givers" and the "needers" to meet without the red tape of government documents or a journalist in the middle for that matter.

I searched the web until I found the end of the Internet, but there really wasn't a place for the people on both ends of the equation to find an equal sign together.

My idea was to launch a web community for military families to meet and share with one another while allowing community support groups to post items and services they'd like to offer the troops as a benefit. I also wanted a place for local military families to brag about their loved ones overseas like you see in the Wal-Mart lobby with a bulletin board of photos. After all, we don't have an active duty Fort or Camp or Base around here, so military families can often feel isolated even though there's hundreds and hundreds all over NE Ohio.

With the new power behind, we've finally created that community and launched it today. Click here to visit.

You'll not only find the most recent stories about our troops, including some of the stories from tonight's special, but you'll also find forums on the right side of the screen for public use. I've already added a few notes from viewers that seem perfect for this type of site.

For example, a local woman wanted to offer Aeros tickets to a local military family with a father serving overseas. I posted her offer with an e-mail contact so that a taker could contact her directly. From here forward, others can post their own offers with contacts and the rest should take care of itself.

Likewise, there's links to military support groups and a place I've dubbed "service member spotlight" where you can upload a picture and add some text about your loved one. Write comments of support of the entries.

You can click directly on the Gold Star Families forum and you'll find a special note from Julie Barkey, a dear friend who's son, Michael, died in Iraq while serving with the Ohio Army National Guard's 1484th Transportation Company from Akron. I also posted a note from some other military moms who are seeking stories from local military families for a book.

If you're a military family, please take advantage of this site and let me know how I can improve it with more services.

If you're someone who has a guitar to send a soldier, or you just have a service you could offer a deployed Marine's family, feel free to make a brief listing with an e-mail address so those families can contact you direct.

You could help me a bunch by telling others about it ...

Most of all .. let's use this site to its fullest ..

OK .. I've rambled enough .. I hope you can join me tonight at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 3 for "The Long Road Home" .. and I hope you'll visit our special web page and tell others to use it as well so that we can really help our military families in their adjustment.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

Eric, I watched the special on Saturday and it was excellent. The soldiers profiled in the show were truly inspiring people and such assets to our community. It was nice of them to open up their lives to you so that you could share their story. The story of the student at Kent State stuck with me the most. It was great reporting.