April 3, 2007 -- When Mark Ecker heard that his 21-year-old son was badly injured in Iraq, his employer told him to pack his bags and go to his son's bedside.
But IBM's concern for the soldier, Mark Ecker II, only began there.
Soon word spread throughout the company about the young Army sergeant who eventually lost both legs below the knees. Sgt. Ecker's story made it to the top of the company, and this week IBM announced that it will honor the young soldier with a donation.
IBM plans to donate $45 million worth of language-translation technology to the U.S. government to help troops and aid organizations better communicate with Iraqi citizens.
Mark Ecker, who has worked for eight years at IBM as a mainframe sales specialist, said he has been overwhelmed by the company's actions.
It all started after his son was attacked in Ramadi on Feb. 24 while on a mission during his second tour in Iraq. His unit had lined up along a building preparing for a raid, but an explosive device hidden there went off, injuring Ecker and six others.
"My manager started sending out e-mails on a daily basis about what happened to my son and the progress that was being made," the senior Ecker said in a phone interview Tuesday from his son's bedside at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
"It became a human interest story within IBM. The e-mail list of people that wanted to hear about Mark and were concerned about Mark kept on growing and growing and growing to the point where people very high up at IBM became aware of the situation."
The next thing he knew, IBM Chairman and CEO Samuel J. Palmisano's office was calling to inform him of the donation.
"It made me proud to be an IBMer and proud of IBM. I was just amazed and shocked. The sense of pride is overwhelming," Ecker said.
IBM is donating 10,000 copies of software that allows instantaneous voice translation between English and Arabic. The company is also donating 1,000 laptops or handheld devices to run the software and giving the Department of Defense technical help installing the program. The U.S. government is reviewing laws to see if it can accept the gift.
The software was originally developed in anticipation of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, according to Gary Ambrose, vice president of IBM's department of defense sales group.
But after the war started, Ambrose said, "We recognized that there was a shortage of translators in Iraq. This technology doesn't replace translators, but does a great job of augmenting them."
The U.S. government has struggled throughout the war to find enough translators. The military has stepped up recruiting programs and government contractors have been offering up to $175,000 to work in Iraq.
IBM's system, called the Multilingual Automatic Speech Translator, or MASTOR, can recognize and translate a vocabulary of more than 50,000 English and 100,000 Arabic words.
The Eckers -- who got a visit from President Bush when he toured Walter Reed on Friday -- said that although this technology wouldn't have helped on the raid, they are confident that it will be a big asset to troops in Iraq.