A way to say thanks to our military | PostIndependent.com

A way to say thanks to our military

JOHN GARDNERGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kelley Cox

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Most people in the in the valley know about Bob Johnson and Operation Vacation. For those not in the know, it’s all about providing soldiers with a little R&R.It’s one of those amazing stories about an idea that developed into something great, and started as a simple, lonely feeling.”I was missing my own son,” Johnson said of how the idea first came to him.

In 2004, Johnson was going through a divorce and didn’t get to see his son as often as he would have preferred. As he watched a program about surprising soldiers in Iraq with visiting family members, the idea came to him.From there he thought that it would be a good idea to reunite soldiers who’ve served overseas with their families and give them a few days of quality relaxation in the Roaring Fork Valley, as a way to say thanks for their service.The operation has been a huge undertaking with great personal satisfaction for Johnson. But if it weren’t for the generosity of the community, including numerous donations from businesses, the operation might never have gotten under way.”It was a surprise to me,” Johnson said. “No one asked for a nonprofit status or a tax ID or anything, I wasn’t doing it for a living, it was just something I wanted to do. But right out of the gate there was no problem from businesses around town.”Now he’s surprised at the pace at which his little dream is growing.Since its inception, Operation Vacation has spawned similar undertakings in Grand County, and in Austin and Dallas, Texas, with several others in the works. Johnson said that there was even a woman in Washington, D.C., working to start a program there.

The Dallas program was started by Jay Langley, a longtime friend of Johnson’s from his college days at the University of Texas. Langley, with his wife Misti, read an article about Johnson in People magazine and they jumped on the dream of helping soldiers, too.”(Jay) saw the article and couldn’t believe what I was doing,” Johnson said. “He called in May and wanted to start one there. They didn’t know that it would take off as well as it did, but it’s really taken off.”Future plans for programs in Telluride and Denver are on the horizon, too, according to Johnson.Johnson is glad the local program has grown, but he said that it’s grown faster than he’d expected.That’s where the Post Independent Holiday Fund can help out.”Normally (Holiday Fund contributions) would go for regular operation expenses,” Johnson said. “But since it’s local money, it will go to local soldiers and their families.”

His hopes were for all funds generated through Operation Vacation to go to the soldiers it helps, but Johnson is incurring unforeseen costs with the program’s unexpected growth. Most of the Holiday Fund money will go for the soldiers, in keeping with Johnson’s original dream for the program.”No one collects a salary, it goes to the direct cause,” Johnson said. “We are having different expenses, but if that helps us expand and spread awareness of the program, that is the point.”It’s all about providing the soldiers with a little R&R.Contact John Gardner: 384-9114jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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