This post was originally produced for Forbes.
As Americans head to the beach or the mountains to celebrate Independence Day they may give some thought to the freedoms they enjoy. With a bit of prompting from some patriotic music accompanying fireworks tonight, they may even give some thought to the soldiers who have fought and died to make those freedoms possible.
Former Miss America Sharlene Hawkes, 53, never forgets. In 2005, she helped found the Remember My Service Military Production division of StoryRock. Remember My Service, RMS, produces videos and books about the service of America’s armed forces.
Watch my full interview with Hawkes in the player at the top of this article.
The division got started “kind of accidentally,” Hawkes says. StoryRock produces a variety of personal and group history products, using a digital approach. The products include video yearbooks and scrapbooks that include video. The profitable division employs six people full time and another five on a part-time basis.
The 96th Regional Readiness Command of the Army Reserve approached her to ask for help organizing their growing treasure trove of digital historical assets. “It was hiding on computers everywhere because nobody knew really what to do with it all,” she says.
She didn’t begin to appreciate the scale of the problem initially, thinking that this was limited to the local Army Reserve unit. “Come to find out, it was military-wide where they needed help.”
The records, videos and books RMS helps to organize serve multiple functions. Initially, she was focused on the value of the historical records being kept for each unit. Quickly, she learned that commanders were interested more in building esprit de corps and also in helping to recruit.
The commanders see the potential for younger sisters and brothers to see the records and say, “Wait a minute, that’s what you guys do. Wow. I want to be part of that.”
One of the challenges that RMS faces is that the military doesn’t have a line item for yearbooks in the budget. One of Hawkes’s innovations was to find private sponsors who would pay to produce the materials for the people serving. In 2006, she helped the National Guard unit in Utah to complete a project using that model. It worked so well, she says, “The National Guard has now done four major projects over the last eight years.”
Private sponsors have made it possible for all the guardsmen to receive records of their service. The model has proven successful, but Hawkes acknowledges that it is a lot of work. Essentially, one project has two sales cycles: one for the project and one for the financing.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the service of America’s Vietnam vets, RMS is now working on its biggest project to date. Hawkes notes that these vets got a “double whammy.” They served, risked their lives, saw their friends die and then came home to a country that “didn’t care about them.”
“America has grown up,” she says. “We never ever should treat our troops like that again.”
The 50th-anniversary commemoration began in 2012 and will continue through 2025 perhaps as we mark the 50th anniversary of the return of the final Vietnam era veterans.
The book is called A Time to Honor: Stories of Service Duty and Sacrifice. The book is not available for individual purchase. Instead, RMS is working on a state-by-state basis using its sponsorship model to produce copies for each and every veteran in that state. so far, only a handful of the states have gone to print.
The sponsors who support the book don’t get traditional advertisements in the book. Instead, they are invited to provide a tribute to the veterans that are included from a spokesperson for the sponsor.
Utah’s book was financed 50% by the state with the balance coming from three sponsors: the Miller Family Foundation, Merit Medical and Questar.
Born in Paraguay, Hawkes is listed here as the fifth most famous person born there. She lived in neighboring Argentina as a teenager before returning to her family’s traditional home in the United States, so she was rather well known in Argentina as well.
But this Miss America is all about the red, white and blue.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!