By Gina Cavallaro - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Jul 21, 2007 9:01:13 EDT
Wounded soldiers and their families are being treated to a weekend at the beach in private homes belonging to generous people.
A program known as “Beach Homes for the Brave” kicked off its inaugural weekend July 13 on the secluded beaches of Palm Island off the southwest coast of Florida.
About six soldiers enjoyed the luxurious surroundings with houses and extras that would usually go for about $1,200 a weekend.
The complimentary getaway for troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan was started through the efforts of an officer at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., who owns a home on Palm Island, and David and Holly Haynes, who own and operate Tarpon Real Estate in Placida, Fla.
“For me it is a ‘thank you,’ it’s a great thing. The feelings we get from this is when we see the looks on their faces and hear some of their comments,” David Haynes told Army Times.
The soldiers who were treated to the first weekend of donated houses, he said through a hearty laugh, “kept asking ‘When’s the other shoe going to drop, where’s the catch, when’s the time share presentation?’ ”
But there is no catch.
Haynes and his wife wrote e-mails to dozens of Palm Island homeowners as far away as Michigan, Iowa and Oregon, asking if they would participate by donating the use of their homes.
With more than 40 homeowners eagerly wanting to give a weekend away, he said, “It has absolutely taken off.”
The plan is to have four houses available each weekend with room for up to eight people in one house, whether it’s families or soldiers and their caretakers.
Other local businesses stepped up soon after and donated the other amenities, and offers are still pouring in.
Haynes sees this as something that could spring up all over Florida and maybe even the rest of the country.
“Any vacation company in the country can do this. This can be the model for everyone else to follow,” he suggested.
As of now, the program is open only to wounded troops stationed in Florida, largely because the Veterans Administration medical center in Tampa is close by, but also because transportation from other parts is not included in the getaway.
But the program does include free ferry transportation to the island, lodging in a fully furnished beachfront home, meals at the Palm Island Resort’s Rum Bay Restaurant, complimentary golf carts and other resort-like privileges on the island.
Sgt. Maj. Steve Valley, director of Army Public Affairs-Southeast, which falls under the Office of Chief of Public Affairs, is coordinating the weekends for soldiers and helped the Haynes get to the soldiers.
He estimated there are 12,000 troops assigned to military bases in Florida, which include wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Valley expects the program to grow, not only in Florida, but in other areas where there is a military presence.
“Right now we’re talking to people in military communities who own property in Virginia Beach,” Valley said. “I really envision this program, or something like it, going national over the next year. There’s really a ground swell of support out there.”
Lt. Col. Michael Kiser, who works with Valley and who helped approve the program, said in an Army press release that the program was something he “really wanted to get involved in.”
“We plan on expanding this program out to different areas,” Kiser said in the release. “This is a story about great Americans, service members and civilians alike, showing their appreciation, love and concern for the war veterans.”