May 2013

Charity Corner- Operation R & R

Author: Paul Devere

First there was Doug and Nic. Then there was Doug and Nic and Dak.

Then there was just Nic and Dak. In less time that it takes you to say “IED” (improvised explosive device), Doug, husband of Nic, father of 16-month-old Dak, became one of this country’s fallen heroes.

On May 25, 2006, Captain and Company Commander (and Plymouth [NH] High School 1995 class president, captain of the football and wrestling teams, 1999 graduate of West Point) Douglas DiCenzo, was killed in Bagdad, Iraq when a roadside bomb was detonated near his Humvee. DiCenzo was 30.

DiCenzo’s wife, Nicole, son Dakin, and Nicole’s mother, Sherry, were recently guests of Operation R&R on Hilton Head Island. Operation R&R is a non-profit organization that arranges complimentary vacations on the island for service men and women, and their families, returning from overseas deployments. In an effort to expand these vacations to a broader base, Operation R&R is now including spouses of soldiers, “Gold Star Wives,” who were killed in action. Nicole DiCenzo is one of the first Gold Star wives.Nicole DiCenzo is author of Revelations: A survivor’s story of faith, hope, and the coming kingdom, the story of her quest for answers about heaven based on, among other things, her personal study of the Book of Revelation. She also has a blog at nicrevelations.com.

Celebrate Hilton Head recently had the opportunity to interview Nicole DiCenzo at the Owners’ Club, where she and family were vacationing.

Celebrate Hilton Head: What were your first impressions of Hilton Head Island?
Nicole DiCenzo: It’s so well laid out. It’s very much, well, in the trees. No big signs. Now I’ve tried hard to find stuff (laughs), but the guy who planned this did a really good job.

CH2: What has your vacation been like?
ND: Well, the first day we did an Easter egg hunt right here. It was probably the highlight of Dak’s vacation, because they gave him a water gun. Then we went on the dolphin cruise. The next day we went on a tour of Daufuskie Island. I loved that. Dak loved that, of course, because he could sit on my lap while we drove around in a golf cart. That was awesome. If I could live anywhere like that, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I was impressed. We visited Baynard ruins in Sea Pines and walked through Sea Pines Forest Preserve. I love hiking, so that was really fun. Then we took Dak swimming at the Rec Center.

CH2: How did you meet Doug?
ND: It was 1999. I had just graduated from University of Memphis. Doug had just graduated from West Point. He was stationed in Columbus, Georgia. His sponsor (at West Point) had just moved to Huntsville, Alabama, and Doug wanted to visit his sponsor that weekend. I wanted to see my dad (he was in the Army), who was also in Huntsville) for the weekend, and both of them were invited to a Christmas party.

Doug and I met at the party and spent four hours together. Even though he was supposed to be going to Alaska the next month, I gave him my phone number. I’m like, “Okay, it’s over.” But he called me when we both got back home. It was a Sunday, and he called me that night. Lots of guys don’t do that. We started talking on the phone, and then we met for New Year’s Eve. We dated every other weekend after that. We were dating for four months when he proposed. We eloped to Alaska. It was the first snow of the year.

CH2: Based on your book and website, religion takes up much of your life now since Doug’s death. Did you grow up in a religious household?

ND: Yeah, my mom and I went to church every Sunday. We were very active in the church. I kind of got out of it in college. I think most kids do. I always wanted to go back, but I’m very shy, so I went to church by myself. When I met Doug, he was kind of the same way. He grew up in the Catholic Church but didn’t really get a connection there. He said he still could get a better feeling by climbing to the top of a mountain. We talked about going back to church together, but that never really hit us until September 11. When I saw all that happening, I said, “Whoa, I need to get back to God.” That was the catalyst. I went back to reading scripture at that point.

CH2: You have really focused on the Book of Revelation, the most difficult book in the New Testament. What drew you to that?

ND: After Doug was killed, my two questions to God were, “What is heaven and when are You coming back. He started to give me answers. The church I grew up in said there is no marriage in heaven; it’s over when you die. We’re like angels floating around up there, but that’s not true.

I want to say God puts little things in your heart way back. When I read the Bible when I was 12, my teacher said if you’re a good person, you should read it. So, of course, I did. When I got to Revelation, I said, “This is crazy stuff. There’s a dragon in there.” I was always fascinated by it. So when everything hit, I asked, “When are You coming back?” What I had in my head didn’t give me much hope. But when the answers started pouring in, I felt everybody needs to know.

CH2: What is your advice to those who have lost a loved one?

ND: You meet a lot of people who are trying to help you deal with it, cope with it. You need to arrive at a point that no one can understand except God, and you need to turn to him. Only with that relationship will you be able to pull through.

Because there are a lot of other people out there trying to be good, but at the same time they just don’t get it. I don’t care if I have a spouse sitting next to me, I can’t understand your pain because I am not you. Your husband was not my husband; your situation is different from my situation. While I can understand more than most, I can’t understand completely. I think a survivor needs to know that people understand that they can’t understand.

The greatest help someone can give is just putting their arms around the person and saying, “I am so sorry. Tell me what I can do to help you.” Those are the people you kind of cling to, because they understand that. It’s so big, there’s no understanding; it’s such a personal thing. I can talk to God at any point in time, and I know that He gets me and understands what I am going through. That and only that has helped me, from my personal experience, helped me pull through.

Operation R&R

Operation R&R, founded by islander Grant Evans, has brought approximately 240 families this season (September 2012 to May 2013). Approximately 1,000 families have taken part since the organization began its operation in January, 2008. Thirteen short-term management companies and about 400 property owners have donated at least one or more vacation weeks. Sixty restaurants and 35 service-related businesses are “Participating Partners.” The Westin Resort and Spa is the exclusive “Hotel Host.” The organization has opened an affiliate location in Charleston, S.C. This past season, it has brought in 100 families, primarily from Ft Bragg Army Base and the Joint Base Charleston Air Base. For more information, visit operationrestandrelax.org.

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