Recovery Vacations A Hit With Soldiers Returning From War

a soldier's homecomingTroop Rewards provides recovery vacations to returning U.S. soldiers and their families who served overseas. To do that, Troop Rewards relies on hotels and private vacation property owners to donate unused inventory, sort of like a hotel might release a number of rooms to Priceline for bidding.

This year, Florida’s Sandpearl resort is teaming up with Troop Rewards to provide recovery vacations for five military service members who were deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

“This is such a great way to honor, remember and reward the servicemen and women who have served and defended our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last ten years,” said Tom Burkett, Troop Reward’s Executive Director. “To be able to team up with such a beautiful and inspiring resort is icing on the cake.”The idea of recovery vacations started with a phone call Burkett received in 2009 from a soldier then serving in Iraq. The soldier’s tour was about to end but before re-joining society with his future wife, he wondered what the cost would be to book Burkett’s timeshare suite at a Florida resort.

Burkett told him the going rate was over $800 per night, but for him the rate would be $0. “How can I charge you anything when you have spent the last year risking your life for my freedom,” Burkett says on the TroopRewards website. “Little did he know at the time, that this would the first of many free stays at his resort for soldiers coming back from Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.”

Since then, Burkett has offered his suite every year to help support the troops and enlisted other private vacation property owners, hotels and resorts to provide rooms, raise money to help pay for travel costs and spending money, making the experience mostly free for soldiers and their families.

The resort will provide five military service members complimentary four-night luxury vacations at the Sandpearl Resort starting on Memorial Day.

Galley Gossip: Giving Thanks To Military Men And Women This Memorial Day

Near the end of a flight from New York to Dallas, a little girl, 9 years old, handed me a piece of paper that read: “Everyone on this plane that works on this plane is very kind and welcoming, comforting and makes me feel safe, happy and comfy, so thank you to everyone. Love, Fallyn.” She made what would have been an ordinary day extra special. For that, I thank her.

Receiving thanks in the air travel industry is rare so when it happens it’s always appreciated. In fact, sometimes it’s so appreciated it feels kind of weird, like do I really deserve this? Did I really do something that deserves so much kindness? Usually, the answer is no. I’m just doing my job, what I’ve been hired to do – assist passengers and provide safety and comfort in flight. Then I’ll blush from the embarrassment of being acknowledged and either quickly refill an empty cup or ask if there’s anything else I can do to make the flight more enjoyable.

Those who do deserve a special thank you for just doing their job are our military men and women. Long ago, my grandpa confessed that not one person thanked him for fighting in WWII. My father experienced the same thing while he was in the navy. This is why I make it a point to say thank you to those who protect us. Once I offered my cellphone to a soldier I spotted putting money into a pay phone at an airport. A couple of times I offered to buy lunch for those I’ve seen in uniform waiting in line at food courts located at airport terminals. It’s the least I can do. They always decline with a blush and then they thank me for thinking of them.

One passenger who went out of his way to thank a serviceman on board an airplane is my friend Will. Here, in his words, is what happened on a recent flight from Dallas to Oklahoma City.

Last evening while standing by the gate and waiting for boarding to commence, I noticed a military serviceman in uniform approach the line, look at his boarding pass and walk to the back of the waiting area – nothing I haven’t seen before. As I sat there on the corner of the room speaking with my kids on the cellphone, pre-boarding was announced for all customers with disabilities or special needs as well as any military personnel in uniform. A few folks boarded but not the soldier.

As a perk for flying a “few thousand” miles a year with American Airlines, I’d been upgraded from coach to first with its wider seats, more legroom, free drinks and more. Sitting in 3E, thoughts about my wife and children ran through my head. As I remembered our recent phone call my heart tightened. It had been only four days since I’d seen my family but it seemed like a month. Just a few more hours… it didn’t seem like much longer.

Boarding continued for another twenty minutes when suddenly I observed the same serviceman from earlier. He was the last one on. Holding his backpack slightly crooked over his right shoulder and a boarding pass on the left hand he quickly went by me towards his seat in coach.

That’s when it clicked.

I stood up, took a couple of steps back towards the soldier, and gently tapped his left shoulder. As he turned around I simply requested his boarding pass. To my surprise he promptly handed it over. A simple gesture of appreciation: the palm of my left hand showing him the direction to my seat. Shocked, he cracked a smile and politely declined the offer by stating I would not enjoy his seat. It was “the worse seat in the plane” – he said.

After insisting a bit, he accepted my offer and took his new seat but not before his smile stretched across his face like a child on a Christmas morning. As I went towards seat 18F (a middle seat) the pride and satisfaction of being able to sincerely thank a man, whom along with thousands of other brave and dedicated soldiers choose to sacrifice their lives so that my children may sleep safely every night, was indescribable.

Sitting in that middle seat while the plane took off, I realized that it felt different: it seemed wider; there was more legroom; it was more comfortable. Was it? No… it was the same as always, but the circumstances were different.

After takeoff I succumbed to my usual ritual of lowering the tray table and hunching over for a quick nap. I was tired… it had been a long day. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my left shoulder. To my surprise, it was the soldier. Extending his right hand as if a handshake was imminent. I responded with the same gesture.

“Thank You” – he said – while leaving in the palm of my hands a coin, which read: PRESENTED BY THE CADET COMMAND – COMMAND SERGEANT MAJOR – FOR EXCELLENCE.

As I nodded in acceptance my eyes suddenly drowned in tears of appreciation and pride. He went back to his seat, leaving me speechless and transformed.

It’s unconditional commitment, bravery and immeasurable sacrifices shown by all of our service men and women that makes it possible for each one of us to sleep by our children and loved ones at night.

Most people do not have a first class seat to offer up as a special thank you to those who serve our country, but that doesn’t matter when it comes to simply showing thanks, letting others know you care and that you notice what they do and appreciate their hard work. A thank you costs nothing but time. By just thinking about how grateful we are for what someone has done for us only benefits us. This kind of satisfaction doesn’t last long and does nothing to change the world. By giving thanks we give others a momentary respite from their daily lives and their own journey through life becomes relevant to the lives today. Don’t wait until people are gone to honor and thank them for being a part of our lives when we can tell them personally how we feel. Thank a soldier today.

10,000 Toy Soldiers March On English Town

toy soldiers
A new museum dedicated to toy soldiers has opened in Silloth in northern England. Soldiers in Silloth opens today and houses the massive collection of local enthusiast Tim Barker.

Barker’s personal army, which numbers some 10,000 diminutive warriors, includes early lead examples and the more modern green plastic guys. The centerpiece is a large diorama (battle scene) of Waterloo. There are other dioramas of the Old West and Hadrian’s Wall, which terminates not far from Silloth. Check out their online gallery to see more.

While the museum is now open, the organization is calling for funds and volunteers. It’s strange to think a type of toy that was ubiquitous when I was a kid back in the ’70s now requires a museum. Most kids don’t seem to play with toy soldiers anymore. Many modeling companies have gone out of business or have stopped mass production and are now catering to collectors and war gamers. The owner of one toyshop where I get models for my kid says he hardly ever sells model soldiers to children anymore.

It appears that toy soldiers are increasingly becoming museum pieces. There are large collections at the Army Museum in London, the War Museum in Paris and the Tin Soldier Museum in Valencia.

Silloth is a major tourist destination in northwestern England. There’s some beautiful coastline and countryside nearby, plenty of fishing and camping opportunities and several annual events, including the popular and family-friendly Solway Music Festival (Solfest).

[Photo courtesy J.C. Butler.]

Crowds flocking to Navy SEAL Museum

Navy SEAL
While Navy SEALs normally work in the shadows, they came into the international limelight on May 2 when they killed Osama bin Laden.

Now the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum has seen its daily attendance triple. The museum in Fort Pierce, Florida, documents the history of the SEALs from their humble beginnings in 1943 as the Naval Combat Demolition Teams and Underwater Demolition Teams to the cutting-edge special ops force it is today.

Yet what will surely go down in history as one of the SEAL’s greatest hits isn’t covered by the museum yet. It’s too recent. That will soon change if the museum raises $1.5 million to set up permanent exhibits in its new wing.

On memorial Day about 2,000 people attended services at the museum, and the SEAL team that killed bin Laden got special attention.

“The signal was sent that you cannot attack the U.S. and murder innocent women and children with impunity, that we will find you and get you and win this war,” said Admiral Thomas L. Brown II.

[Photo of SEALs in Afghanistan courtesy U.S. Navy]

American Civil War anniversary remembered. . .in Dublin

Civil War, Irish Brigade, American Civil War
As the United States begins a series of commemorations of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, this momentous conflict is even being marked beyond the nation’s borders.

This weekend the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin is having a series of events to mark the contribution of Irish immigrants on both sides of the Civil War. While most Irish immigrants went to the industrial North and thus ended up in the Union army, there were a significant number of Irish Confederates as well. Also, the famous New York City draft riots were mostly instigated by poor Irish immigrants who objected to the fact that rich people could buy their way out of the draft.

Unless you’re in Dublin at the moment you’ll miss the lectures and free live music, but if you’re going to Dublin check out the museum’s permanent Soldiers & Chiefs exhibition at Collins Barracks, which outlines Irish military history including the Irish people’s part in the American Civil War.

[Image of Lt. Col. James J. Smith and officers of 69th New York Infantry (Irish Brigade) courtesy Library of Congress]