As the sand on the frontlines become a thing of the past for some servicemembers and a mission in the future for others, a program called, Operation at Ease functions year round supporting the troops for a weekend they will never forget on the sandy beaches of the North Carolina coast.
Operation at Ease is a completely volunteer-operated and maintained program in Saint James Plantation, N.C. that provides active-duty military personnel and their Families with the opportunity of a complimentary weekend of rest, relaxation and recreation. The only requirement is that the servicemember has to have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, or is about to be deployed.
The program, co-founded by Eleanor Colston, Jean Fiedler and Chris Stitcher began in 2008 after the three women decided they wanted to find a way to thank servicemembers for the sacrifices they make while deployed overseas. After they started the program, the women realized just how big of a sacrifice it was for servicemembers because some of them miss out on at least half of their children’s lives due to multiple deployments.
“I enjoy the opportunity to be a part of this very special program. I am a retired naval officer, so I can appreciate all the sacrifices that our great armed forces currently endure,” said Donald J. Hill, member of Operation at Ease board of directors. “It is truly a privilege to be able to serve the Families up in Fort Bragg who so deserve a weekend of total relaxation that we can offer them here in Saint James,” he added.
Operation at Ease has about 120 volunteers who perform various functions to ensure that the visiting military Families have a stress-free weekend.
“The structure of this organization was amazing. They had volunteers for every aspect of our visit — a welcoming team, a cooking team, a condo-prep team, a recreation team, and a photography volunteer,” said Diana Wright, brigade Family readiness support assistant, 82nd Sustainment Brigade, and wife of Capt. Steve Wright, detachment commander, Company E, 9th Military Information Support Battalion. “Every detail of the weekend was well thought out, yet they were not intrusive,” she added.
Without the support of local merchants in Saint James, financial gifts from the Saint James community, and two major fundraisers during the year, Operation at Ease could not exist. The program is able to offer a wide variety of amenities, to include, a home- cooked meal on the night of arrival, snacks, breakfast foods, gift certificates, and the choice of a boat ride or entrance into the aquarium, just to name a few.
One local developer, St. James Properties, LLC arranged for the servicemembers and their Families to use the development’s pools, golf, tennis facilities and beach club at Oak Island, all free of charge.
“The most enjoyable moment of the retreat was not having to plan a thing. As a military wife, I find that due to my husband’s career, a lot of our day-to-day, and vacation plans are left to me. It was nice to be able to show up and go with the flow,” said Wright.
The volunteers ask each Family that before they leave, they write in a book provided, a note telling the staff about their stay, what they liked, and what could be improved to make their stay more enjoyable.
“The notes we have received over the years bring tears to our eyes as we read them and how much, to every Family, the opportunity to come here and relax for a few days has meant to every one of them,” said Hill. “These notes are all we need to make sure the program continues to exist,” he added.
“There are many organizations that say, ‘We support our Soldiers,’ but Operation at Ease exemplifies this!” said Wright. “If you have an opportunity to take advantage of this great program, do so. It is an amazing organization that is privately funded and run by volunteers who truly support us and honor the sacrifices we make as a military Family,” she added.
For more information regarding the program, or to sign up for your stress-free weekend, visit their website at: www.oaeamerica.org.