A small golfing community on the Intercostal waterway near Southport, North Carolina, St. James, home to approximately 5000 residents.
St. James residents open their community, from March – October to 50 military Families each year, through the nonprofit organization Operation at Ease.
The community is a two-hour drive from Fort Bragg, and many of the residents are retired military.
The community has a unique understanding of the cost of military service to Families because of their own experiences.
“A much higher percentage of our residents are retired military and veterans than you find in the general population. Many of us have been through the deployment experience and know first-hand the anxiety of separation,” said the OEA Board of Directors Chair, Edward M. “Kim” Sniffen. “Most of us grew up in the Vietnam War era. We saw the poor treatment of our GI’s returning from Southeast Asia and knew how much that hurt. We wanted to help ensure that today’s military families know we stand behind them and honor their service.”
Sniffen, explained that in 2007, during the first Iraq War troop surge, the community came together and pledged to do more than put yellow ribbon bumper stickers on their cars.
The organization is funded and staffed by the residents of St. James.
Many of the residents give both time and money, Sniffen said.
The community accepts applications from active duty military personnel who have, in the last 12 months, completed a deployment in any location at which they would qualify for hazardous duty pay.
Families selected, receive a three-day weekend of rest, relaxation, and reconnections, Sniffen said.
“Resources include comfortable condo rental units, our resort-style recreation and fitness facilities, the next-door charming tourist town of Southport and, of course, the beautiful beaches,” explained Sniffen.
They are guests of the community, and everything, amenities, food and accommodation are free of charge. OAE even reimburses Families for the cost of travel to St. James
A community representative, upon arrival, greets families and liaison should they need anything during their stay. They are then left in peace to reconnect to one another.
The goal of the program according to the OAE website is “to offer a relaxing environment where military families can rebuild strengthen family bonds following extended and stressful separations.”
According to www.army.mil, “Soldiers cannot fully focus on their duties unless they know their Families are taken care of. Soldier readiness plus Family readiness equals mission readiness.”
Operation at Ease supports Families and readiness and serves a vital role in the Fort Bragg community.
For additional information or to apply to participate in OAE visit, www.oaeamerica.org.