I am a Veteran and I work at Google. I retired from the military in 2012 after a 25-year career. This year, on Veterans Day, we worked with the VA and America’s Parade to bring Veterans with disabilities (and those otherwise unable to travel) their first virtual reality experience.
On Nov. 11, we filmed the New York City Veteran’s Day parade in 360-degree video, and with Google Cardboard, brought together Veterans and their families at VA hospitals from Palo Alto, California, to Pryor, Oklahoma to experience the nation’s largest Veterans Day parade in virtual reality as if they were there, marching. We hosted 11 #UnitedWeMarch events at VA hospitals around the country.
Now, any Veteran can experience the virtual march online at g.co/unitedwemarch. The virtual parade video is available on YouTube 360 (desktop), the YouTube app (mobile) and via Google Cardboard (also mobile).
It was incredible to reconnect with other Veterans and even better to see their reactions to the virtual parade. For several, this was their first Veterans Day march. One Marine who served in Vietnam even remarked, “You just took me away from this hospital room to New York. And you didn’t even charge me airfare!”
#UnitedWeMarch is part of the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities, which has given $20 million in grants from Google.org toward organizations improving the lives of people with disabilities. Google.org also gave a $235,000 grant to America Makes to create a training for military Veterans to learn the basics of using new technologies to build personalized assistive devices like 3D-printed prosthetic limbs. This is all in collaboration with VA’s Center for Innovation.
I’m grateful to have been able to bring this experience to the veterans at the Palo Alto VA. It was moving to see the Veterans temporarily leave their hospital beds through virtual reality and experience the crowds cheering them along the parade route.
About the author: James Reid, Googler and Google VetNet member is an Army Veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.