Q&A: Cell Phones for Soldiers Co-Founder Robbie Bergquist

Larry Myers
Chief People Officer, T-Mobile US

As so many of us prepare to spend the holidays with friends and family, it’s important to remember that U.S. personnel who are protecting our country (and our freedom) may not have the same opportunity. T-Mobile, which counts many veterans among its valued employees, is supporting our troops by helping them connect to their family and friends through Cell Phones for Soldiers, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing cost-free communication services to active duty military members and veterans.

On Sunday, Nov. 17, T-Mobile showed its support for this worthwhile cause when it partnered with the Seattle Seahawks during their Military Appreciation Day activities. Seventeen T-Mobile military veterans staffed gathering stations at stadium entry points, collecting monetary donations and gently-used cell phones.  To further support the donation drive, T-Mobile US CEO John Legere, CFO Braxton Carter and EVP of Corporate Services Dave Carey presented a check in the amount of $50,000 to Cell Phones for Soldiers shortly before the (victorious) Seahawks squared off at CenturyLink Field against the visiting Minnesota football team.

T-Mobile’s Chief People Officer Larry Myers posed several questions to Cell Phones for Soldiers Co-Founder Robbie Bergquist to learn more about this organization’s important and meaningful efforts.

LM: T-Mobile was thrilled to be able to help raise money to support your efforts. Can you tell us how the money will be used?

RB: The proceeds from the cell phone drive, as well as donations made at T-Mobile headquarters and through its participating retail stores, will be used to purchase prepaid international calling cards to make it easier for our deployed troops to stay connected to friends and family during the holidays and beyond.  The donations will provide more than 1.6 million minutes of free talk time.

We were also thrilled to receive the support of T-Mobile prior to and during the game. The monetary donation was the cherry on top! When we saw the $20,000 check, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then T-Mobile’s senior leadership got excited about what we were trying to do and reached into their own pockets to sweeten the total contribution. When they crossed out $20,000 on the check during pregame ceremonies and wrote in $50,000, we were absolutely blown away!

LM: You collect a lot of donated cell phones on behalf of U.S. troops serving overseas so they can call home. What do you do with them?

RB: We learned early on that troops in combat cannot use cell phones because they may pose security threats. Instead, we collect donations of gently-used cell phones and use the proceeds from recycling to purchase international calling cards for service members. Since 2004, we have recycled more than 11 million phones and have provided more than 200 million minutes of talk time for our troops. On average, we receive 8,000 calling card requests each week, and we’re able to fulfill each and every one! Military members and their families can request free calling cards directly from our Web site.

LM: You must have a lot of examples where grateful troops came to you with stories of how your efforts changed their lives. Any you’d care to share?

RB: We recently heard from the mother of two sons deployed in Afghanistan. Sitting at home on a Saturday a few years ago, she was delighted when her phone rang. Both of her sons were calling here, which said initially brought her great comfort since they had been separated into different units. Her joy was short-lived, however. The reason they were calling together was that one of her sons, Jay, had been injured in an IED explosion. The injuries were not life-threatening, and Jay was able to get on the phone to reassure his mother this was the case. That phone call ended, and the waiting began. Many nervous hours ticked by with no further word of her son’s condition. Twenty-nine hours later, she received second phone call from Jay himself. It turned out he had no way of calling again until a military chaplain handed him a Cell Phones for Soldiers international calling card, which he used to confirm for Mom that his injuries were not life-threatening.

LM: Anything you’d like to say to Seahawks fans that applauded your efforts on Military Appreciation Day?

RB: Thank you! Seattle is such a wonderful city and a perfect fit for our organization. The people of Seattle have such a profound respect for our military members and recycling. The proceeds from the donated cell phones not only provide free calls home for our troops but they’re also responsibly recycled, thus keeping harmful materials out of landfills.

To the generous Seahawks fans and T-Mobile customers who donated money, cell phones, and shared their stories, we would truly like to say thank you! We couldn’t have executed such an amazing drive without the support of the Seahawks organization and T-Mobile veteran employees! Your support is greatly appreciated.

LM: What’s next for Cell Phones for Soldiers? Any plans to expand the organization?

RB: Yes, we’re continuing to grow our veterans’ initiative, Helping Heroes Home. Helping Heroes Home, an initiative of Cell Phones for Soldiers, provides emergency funds for returning veterans to alleviate communication challenges as well as physical, emotional and assimilation hardships.

Each day, requests are submitted to aide veterans as they transition into post-combat life. Helping Heroes Home has provided veterans with mobile phones and service, car repairs, home bill payments such as rent/mortgage, utilities and more. Since July 2012, Helping Heroes Home has assisted more than 350 veterans and their families with emergency needs. As long as servicemen and women continue to give back to us, we will continue to give back to them.

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