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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices / The Teen Scene named 2024 Non-Profit of the Year by North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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The Wonderful Story Behind Those Blue Bows with Flags on Your Mailbox

OPERATION AT EASE HELPS OUR MILITARY
The+Wonderful+Story+Behind+Those+Blue+Bows+with+Flags+on+Your+Mailbox

Introduction

By:  Jan Morgan-Swegle

I spoke to Eric Holmes about project Operation At Ease.  I encourage you to find out more about this wonderful initiative and do all you can to help support it.

Eric lives in St. James Plantation in Southport.  He was in the Navy during the Cold War and now spends his time not only relaxing in retirement, but volunteering to help military focused organizations.  He started out as a volunteer making meals for Operation At Ease (OAE) and after a short time, became one of their board members and finally, the Chairperson.    Eric explained, “The program is designed to give those in the military a weekend to just focus on their family, enjoy time away from the day-to-day military routine and just relax.”  He continued, “Being in the military is tough these days, there is no ‘line of warfare’ they can reference.  They are just trying to figure out how to stay alive.  Keep in mind, when a veteran has been deployed for a long period of time, he or she can come back to their family and feel like an outsider.  They don’t know the day-to-day routine; their children see the other parent as the primary disciplinarian and support person and they struggle sometimes to find a way to fit back into the family dynamic.”

Eric explained, “In 2007, 3 women at St. James decided to do something to ‘make a difference’ in the lives of our military.   They decided to offer a stress-free weekend at St. James for service people and their families.  Roughly 40 to 50 families a year come down to St. James and stay in one of our condos for the weekend–or a few days longer, if they can arrange time off with their commander.  We provide a condo, travel assistance, meals and vouchers for meals at the beach. Each family gets a photography session which may be their first family portraits. They are VIP guests of St James Plantation with use of our resort style pool.  At the beach we provide beach chairs, umbrellas/tents and boogie boards.  Many times, it’s the first time their children have seen the ocean.

Aimed primarily at enlisted personnel, to be considered for a St. James adventure, the soldier must have been deployed recently and obtained a recommendation from their supervisor for being a role model soldier.  They apply on the OAE website (www.oaeamerica.org) and answer questions–among them are there any food allergies or special accommodations that are required to make this an enjoyable visit.

The return on our investment in our military families is enshrined in our guestbook notes. He said, “The families are so grateful, especially for what we did for their children.   They sincerely thank us and that can bring tears to your eyes.”  Eric shared a special memory about the program.  “We had a soldier who was about to be deployed come down with his fiancée.  She wanted to get married, but everything was just happening too fast, so she just wanted pictures of the two of them together before he left.  We arranged those pictures, but we also arranged a Chaplin and a wedding cake.  They got married on the beach before he was deployed.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  We try to make each experience specific to what the guests want.”

Being deployed and away from your family is difficult, but probably even more difficult at Christmas time.  If you or our local vendors would like to make a donation to this wonderful, non-profit organization, please email Eric and find out how you can help.  You can reach him at [email protected].

OPERATION AT EASE 

By:  Eric Holmes

In 2007, with our country sending soldiers overseas to combat terrorism, three women asked this question:

 ‘What can I do to make a difference?’.

During a meal at one of our St. James clubs, a member overheard them talking about it and wrote out a check for $1,000 as seed money to make a difference. This generous spirit is maintained now by the purchase of the patriotic blue bows with flags.

Operation at Ease (OAE), whose mission as a community based 501.3C provides a Rest and Relaxation (R&R) weekend getaway for our active duty military. This is our way of saying thank you for their service.

The three women, Christine Stitcher, Eleanor Colston and Jean Fieldler, relied on a small group of 25 volunteers to coordinate with the service members, greet the family upon arriving at St. James, prepare meals for the weekend, take family photographs (many times the first portraits for the families), donated rental units, volunteers who supply toys for the children and with the St. James quilters make Christmas ornaments.

This group of women were recognized with the North Carolina governor’s award for volunteer service.

Christine is most pleased with the fact that the structure of the organization from the board members, monthly coordinators, family greeters, meal preparers, photographers, and boat captains has been maintained while the organization now has hundreds of volunteers and over 500 military families, from OAE inception, have enjoyed the St. James amenities that many could not afford or enjoy.

Current deployment schedules are harder on our soldiers’ families. While the soldier in harms way takes the bullets, the spouse keeping the home front secure has a most demanding and stressful life.

Operation At Ease (OAE) is a charitable organization that provides military families with a weekend getaway from the stresses of deployment for the service member and the family.

It is supported principally by the sale of the Blue Bows (with flags) visible on our mailboxes.

Operation At Ease (OAE) helps in reuniting returning deployed active military personnel with their families. We do this by inviting the service members and their families to join us here in St. James for an all-expense paid weekend. Twice a month, from April through September, four families are selected from a pool of applicants to make the trip. Recommended by their superior officer, the soldier or airman and their families arrive on Friday afternoon and leave on Sunday afternoon. Most candidates come from Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, NC. Operation At Ease pays for their transportation, provides meals and housing (usually at Club Villas), offers coupons for things like pizza and ice cream (supplied by local merchants) as well as the families’ choice of one of three amenities; a visit to the Fort Fisher Aquarium, a round of miniature golf on Oak Island, or a boat ride on the intracoastal waterway. While here, the family can use our St. James beach club and use certain Troon health club facilities and pools.

A core of 150 volunteers support the visiting military family’s getaway weekend. Operation At Ease board of directors, led by chairman Bob Ames for the last 5 years, guides the volunteers and the heart of the operation are the monthly coordinators and greeters who ensure our guests are settled in their St. James condo and acts as a resource during the weekend for each family.

Here are just some of the thank you notes written by the visiting families:

 From the bottom of our hearts, we would like to thank everyone for a wonderful weekend. From the communications prior to arrival, check-in and every interaction wit the folks was spectacular. To say we are overwhelmed with your gratitude and love would be an understatement. We hope that one day we can be in the position to give it forward to other well deserving service members and their families. A special thank you to Simon, Denise and Jerry. We are thankful for the warmth and kindness you’ve shown us.

Thank you OAE for this incredible opportunity to have a fun filled weekend! The hospitality, the condo, amazing food, gifts for the kids; there wasn’t a single detail you all hadn’t thought of. We were able to relax and simply enjoy each other’s company which was so needed! We are forever grateful and can’t wait to share with other military families so they can have a chance to experience the same joy & support your beautiful community offers.

Dear Operation at Ease members and volunteer staff, A million thank you’s for this incredible weekend here in St. James! We could not have enjoyed ourselves more. After trainings, school, and deployments, this weekend was a respite from the day to day at home. You all were incredible and so generous. WE are beyond blessed to have received such a generous gift of time – something that is often in short supply.

Thank you to the OAE program and everyone else who made this happen. Our family had a blast and our son loved seeing the ocean for the first time. Ms. Elaine and Mr. Simon are both fantastic people who are great at what they do. We hope that this program can keep running for a long time. Thank you so much.

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About the Contributor
Jan Morgan-Swegle
Jan Morgan-Swegle is the Editor of Cape Fear Voices.  She has been writing for CFV for almost 3 years.  She is originally from the Cleveland area and moved down to Leland 12 years ago.  She and her husband, Tony, and their dog, Dixie, enjoy sitting on the lanai listening to music and sharing wine (Dixie likes white wine but only gets two finger tips full!!)  They have 3 children and 9 grandchildren living in Cleveland, Ohio,  Charlotte, North Carolina and Lakeland, Florida.

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