Organization provides free vacations for military families
Joshua Roberts was deployed to Afghanistan for the first time only weeks after marrying his wife, Jessica.
In the nearly six years the young Fayettville, N.C., couple have been married, Joshua, an Army flight medic stationed at Fort Bragg, has been deployed to the Middle East three times.
“Coming home is emotional and psychological. Soldiers are coming from a place where anything can happen,” he said.
Jessica is a stay-at-home mother to their three boys, Colton, 5; Kaydon, 4; and Jonathan, 8 months. She said the reintegration process after her husband returns home is one of her main concerns.
“You can just see it on his face,” she said about her husband being overwhelmed when he returns home.
That’s why she decided to apply for a free vacation courtesy of Operation R&R.
The nonprofit organization was founded in 2008 by Ohio resident Grant Evans to help soldiers returning from deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan bond with their families. It all started when he decided to donate use of his Hilton Head Island vacation home to a soldier and his family.
“We have found that giving families an opportunity to spend time together away from the normal stresses of everyday life helps them in the reintegration process,” Evans said in a press release.
Joshua returned Aug. 5 from his most recent deployment in Afghanistan. Around that time, his wife decided to fill out the application to participate in the program, which she heard about from the base’s Family Readiness Group that provides spouses with information about the troops and other resources.
Because of Operation R&R, the Roberts family was able to take their first vacation together. Last week, they stayed at Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms. And although they had the ability to explore Charleston, the family said the best vacations are the ones where you can “just sit.”
Families stay for free in vacation homes donated by the owners during the offseason for four to seven days. Local restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses also give the families discounts.
Nikki Weeks, a military wife herself, is the executive director of the Charleston affiliate of the organization. There are also affiliates on Hilton Head and in Austin, Texas.
She said she found out about the organization through Twitter when it first started here two years ago. She began as a greeter and was responsible for helping families settle into their vacations homes.
“I loved the mission. Being a military wife, it hit home for me. This is more of a calling to me,” she said about leaving her job as a television news producer to become executive director.
Weeks said the organization picks the offseason because owners are more willing do donate the use of their homes since they will not lose any rental income that comes with the peak season.
“It’s not quite as crowded, and they’re able to walk on the beach and have alone time. It’s calming,” Weeks said.
Weeks said the Charleston affiliate began in 2011 and has a seven-member volunteer team. They started their second season this month, which lasts from September to May. About 150 families are scheduled to participate so far. The Charleston affiliate mostly serves families from Joint Base Charleston and Fort Bragg.
Joshua said the best advice he can give other soldiers returning home is to communicate.
“The wives don’t know what we’ve been through, and we don’t know what they’ve been through,” he said.
“It’s easy to disconnect,” Jessica added.
Jessica said that the experience is easier because they both came from military families and knew what to expect. Her father is retired, but Joshua’s father is still on active duty. Joshua had a different view and said knowing about the lifestyle and living it are very different.
“It’s rough. You have to be a certain kind of person to be married to someone in the military,” Weeks said.
In order to participate in the program, the soldier must have been deployed within the past 12 months before the vacation date. The soldier must also be married and on active duty. Families can participate in the program only once.
For information on Operation R&R or to make a donation, go to www.charleston.operationrandr.org.
Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or email@example.com.