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Web sites helps soldiers communicate with families

Candy Kellen of Worthington is working to promote the Web sites for Heroes project founded by her brother and Vietnam veteran Terry Gniffke. The project provides personalized Web pages for American soldiers and their families. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON -- Candy Kellen was fairly young when her brother went off to Vietnam to serve his country in the U.S. military.

While she was perhaps too young to understand war, she was old enough to know that her brother was in danger. She and her parents often waited for news from Vietnam on television, only to worry more if an attack involved his particular unit.

"I remember one time we had to wait 10 days to hear (from him after the unit) got hit," said Kellen.

Today, Kellen wants to make it possible for soldiers to communicate faster and easier with their families. Her older brother is doing the same thing.

Three years ago next month, Terry Gniffke co-founded Websites for Heroes, a project in which soldiers can apply for their own personalized Web site.

Websites for Heroes offers soldiers and their families the ability to share video, photos and commentary via a secure, password-protected site approved by the Pentagon. There are 1,900 soldiers and their families that have individual sites at this time.

"With technology now days, there are a lot more opportunities available (for military families to communicate)," said Kellen.

She quickly became one of the early supporters of the Websites for Heroes project, and is now working to boost local interest for the cause. In addition to promoting the Web site in the media, she will be approaching local schools to see if students can help raise money to support Web sites for the soldiers. Other projects are planned as well.

"It's a sprint, it's not a marathon," she said of her goal to increase awareness for the Web site.

At this time, there are more than 1,000 soldiers waiting to have their own, personal Web site. Funding is needed, however, to make those sites a reality. Each personal Web site costs approximately $100 per year to maintain, and because the founders don't want soldiers and their families to pay the fees, they rely solely on donations.

"It's time to step up, America," said Kellen. "We need to get these sites created. It's a way to personally affect those that are sacrificing so much."

Kellen said there's a saying that "our men and women in uniform are at war and Americans are at the mall."

She's hoping that local residents will step up and prove that we haven't forgotten about our soldiers and what they are doing to protect us.

"It has a lot of meaning to me," she said. "It's sad that these families are waiting."

If people would like to support the Websites for Heroes project, they can do so on-line at the link included below, or they can mail or drop off a donation in care of Websites for Heroes at United Prairie Bank in Worthington.

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