Second Life avatar HONDO Slade is in his real life a U.S. Navy Desert Storm veteran. HONDO currently works in the El Paso, Texas area in a military medical clinic. His advice for all veterans? “Get a claims service officer from one of the veterans service organizations. They help you free of charge.” He is a Life Member of Disabled American Veterans and is proud to have been part of the effort to bring DAV into Second Life.
HONDO came into Second Life on 11 May, 2007. When he created his online character, or avatar, he had no idea that he would become a veterans advocate in the virtual world. Nor did he foresee that he would be looked up to by hundreds of members of a group he helped establish in support of veterans and active duty service members as well as their families.
By early October 2007, he had co-founded a group so he could display “U.S. Navy Veteran” above his avatar’s name tag while exploring Second Life. Before long, other Navy vets saw the tag and asked to join the group. One of these was Cowboy Wayne, a Navy vet who owned land space in Second Life and was inspired to build a headquarters for the group–the U.S. Military Veterans Center.
In late October, 2007, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) sent representatives into Second Life. Headquartered in Cold Spring, Kentucky, DAV launched a project in Second Life as a way to connect with younger veterans who felt out of place at chapter meetings dominated by elderly WWII and Korean War vets. DAV’s national leadership was amazed to find the U.S. Military Veterans Center in Second Life, and moreover that Manny, one of the Center co-founders, is a disabled veteran. Moreover, other veterans began to find the Veterans Center in their search for aid and support in their ongoing battle with the VA bureaucracy. The idea clearly worked, and DAV continues to partner with the U.S. Military Veterans Center in Second Life to provide outreach, advocacy and services to America’s vets.
By Veterans Day 2007, the U.S. Military Veterans Center had attracted the interest of Second Life news media and its founders were interviewed for a Veterans Day special report. When they watched the completed new report, the members of the U.S. Navy Veteran group learned that a replica of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall had been constructed in Second Life, so they naturally hurried over to see for themselves. While there, they met the creators of The Wall, including Evian Argus, who identified himself as a Navy vet and asked to join. As vets from other services found the Veterans Center and asked about joining, the U.S. Navy Veteran group co-founders recognized that a new all-service group was needed, so Cowboy Wayne created the U.S. Military Veteran group. Today, U.S. Military Veteran is the group that owns and operates the U.S. Military Veterans Center in Second Life.
In mid-December 2007, DAV’s national leadership agreed that Second Life provides a powerful platform where veterans can socialize with vets of their own age group and find solutions to the real life challenges of life after active duty military service. Disabled American Veterans constructed an information office within the U.S. Military Veterans Center to help Vet Center staff refer vets to DAV’s six-region campus in Second Life and the vital services available to them.
In August 2008, DAV opened its six-region campus to the public and introduced it simultaneously at its National Convention held in Las Vegas. Moreover, the DAV website features a link on its home page to information about Second Life that includes a thank you to the U.S. Military Veterans Center and its members.
Tthe U.S. Military Veterans Center is becoming well-known outside of Second Life. While waiting for care at his VA medical center, he heard some vets talking about HONDO Slade. At a recent meeting of an El Paso DAV chapter, the commander was amazed to realize that he was speaking to one of the co-founders of the U.S. Military Veterans Center he had read about on the DAV home page. Moreover, veterans who have visited the U.S. Military Veterans Center and joined the group tell fellow vets about it and bring them in. It is not unusual to learn that a visitor has learned about the Veterans Center from one of his buddies and would like to join the group. Recently, a group member took his lap top to a sports bar, gathered his buddies around the screen, and treated them to a tour of the Veterans Center and talked with other vets there.