By J.D. LeipoldFebruary 21, 2014
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 21, 2014) -- In January 2013, under a "close-hold" mandate, the crew responsible for developing the Army.mil website was told that President Barack Obama planned to award Medals of Honor to 24 Soldiers, living and deceased, who had served in World War II, Korea or Vietnam.
That ceremony will take place on March 18 at the White House.
The Army.mil team, responsible for maintaining the Army's homepage and for designing its many specialized microsites, would need to build a new site to honor all 24 of those recipients.
Army.mil creative director and designer, Melissa Burlovich, was the principal force behind four previous microsites that paid tribute to individual Army Medal of Honor recipients.
She said designing and developing content pages for 24 recipients seemed to be an insurmountable task for her team, but one she knew they'd be able to handle.
Developing a site to honor an individual Soldier, as she had done in the past, involved gathering photos, battle narratives and unit information. For the recipients of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, that had been fairly straightforward, as the events were recent.
But with "Valor 24" -- the team's codename for the project -- only three recipients are still living, all from the Vietnam War. In all, Valor 24 would include developing content pages for the seven posthumous MOH recipients who served in World War II, the eight posthumous MOH recipients who served in the Korean War, and the six posthumous and three still-living MOH recipients who served in Vietnam.
One of the largest hurdles to overcome, Burlovich said, was finding content to fill those pages.
"Part of the problem we faced was some of the next-of-kin had never met the person, so they didn't have photos, stories or information to offer," she said.
In some cases there was a lot of information on the individual -- particularly for the three living nominees who were all interviewed in person. But finding information on the 21 who were no longer living, and balancing the site so each Soldier got the same recognition, was probably the biggest challenge, Burlovich said.
"That gathering of information was probably the hardest," she said. "Partly because content drives design."
To help the Army.mil team gather information for the Valor 24 project, the team relied on a special team of six non-commissioned officers from the Defense Information School, said Army.mil content director, Max Maxfield.
The team had to hunt down unit histories, unit crests, and unit patches from all the units the Soldiers served in when they performed their valorous actions. This became particularly difficult for units that have long-since deactivated, Maxfield said.
Between the team of NCOs at DINFOS, personnel in Army public affairs, and the Army.mil content team, enough content was gathered to flesh out the microsite.
"The team was reaching out to whatever family members they could find and who were available," Maxfield said. "There was this big process going on trying to feed Melissa the information. It was like trying to hit a moving target."
Maxfield said the team received exceptional support with the project from Bonnie Henning, at the Institute of Heraldry, and John Foley, at the Don. F. Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell, Ky.
"The major challenges were the sheer amounts of content that came in, which had to be made grammatically correct; especially when you're talking about unit histories," Maxfield said. "They're written in military language. Dates are different, ranks are different; just the use of grammar in the earlier sections of the unit histories had to be modernized."
Army.mil project manager, Zack Kevit, said he'd been helping by getting the last puzzle pieces together -- "getting the content has been the toughest part, because a lot of it just doesn't exist."
"Army public affairs and the team at DINFOS were trying to find the relatives of these Soldiers," Kevit said. "Many of the families had never met their relatives. One good story we heard was the Army was able to reunite one family branch with another family branch. They had never met before."
Deepa Mahendru, who manages the metrics analysis team for Army.mil, evaluates how well the public interacts with the website, and tracks the popularity of content. That enables the team to gauge and plan for future projects.
Aaron Berkowitz, the Army.mil technical director, elaborated on metrics analysis options -- "since we are expecting a lot of traffic to the site, we put in different tools to measure how visitors interact with the different sections." These lessons will be applied to future website promotion efforts to ideally enhance the user experience.
Mahendru said she's excited about seeing the numbers associated with the live video the website will provide from the ceremony.
"We'll be able to live-stream the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House over Army.mil," she said. "And the following day, when all 24 Soldiers are inducted into the Hall of Heroes, we'll stream that too."
Berkowitz added, "this will give our visitors a single place to go for all the information they need, and help put the videos in context. Our goal is to encourage the visitors to explore all the different sections of the site, and the best way to do that is to provide great content like the live video feeds."
Nearly 200 individual content pages are devoted to the Valor 24 site. That content includes a biography for each Soldier, as well as their Distinguished Service Cross citation -- which will be upgraded to a Medal of Honor citation.
To identify the wars in which Medal of Honor recipients fought, Burlovich created a color scheme for each of the conflicts. MOH recipients from World War II are gray; those from Korea are tan; and those from Vietnam are a muted Army green. Blue is the color scheme for Soldiers who earned the MOH in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Each Valor 24 recipient has a unit history, shoulder sleeve insignia, distinctive unit insignia and external resources," Burlovich said. "There will also be a news and media section which will eventually be populated for each of the three living recipients on their pages."
Maxfield, who spent 20 years in the Army, including a deployment to Afghanistan, said he's seen the sacrifices first-hand that Soldiers make for their country.
"No matter how or why those Valor 24 guys ended up being where they were, they were there to give everything they had," he said. "I'm just happy that we can produce this site that pays tribute to their sacrifices and bravery."
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