Operation R&R: A Gold Star Family’s Vacation
Author: Paul deVere
One morning we all walked down to the beach and watched the babies flying kites. That was really special for us,” said Tammy Eakes. She was recalling a family vacation on Hilton Head Island back in April. Uncles, aunts, mothers and fathers, grandparents, and the two little ones, 14 in all. “It really helped us all recharge.”
What made this vacation so different from the thousands of family vacations that happen on Hilton Head every year is that this was a “Gold Star Family.” They were remembering and celebrating Lance Eakes, John and Tammy Eakes’ only son, who was the victim of an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) in Baghdad, Iraq on April 18, 2008. They were guests of Hilton Head’s Operation R&R, the organization that provides complimentary vacations to surviving family members of soldiers killed in the line of duty during overseas deployments.
Lance was on his second deployment with the North Carolina National Guard in Iraq, with the 1132nd Military Police Company. He was returning from a mission with Iraqi police when the bombing occurred. He was 25.
Operation R&R has served over 1,000 military families by providing free vacations on Hilton Head for soldiers returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of the world since it began in 2008. “But we have expanded our focus,” said Dr. Grant Evans, founder and CEO of Operation R&R. “The parents of the fallen are left with memories and loss and little else. We felt there was a need for further support,” Evans said.
The Eakes are from Apex, North Carolina, a growing community outside of Raleigh. Known for its small town atmosphere, Apex is ranked no. 9 in Money magazine’s “Best Places to Live.” So a compliment from one of its citizens should give Hilton Head Islanders pause. “It’s just amazing to us people care that much. I mean the house was like something out of a magazine. And to donate it to strangers. The whole community is really wonderful,” Tammy said.
Operation R&R’s success is a direct reflection of the generosity of the island’s vacation related businesses and property owners, Evans explained. Tammy remembered one of those businesses in particular. “All the restaurants were really nice. There was one, Giuseppi’s. They were so wonderful. We met the owner; he was real sweet. He even got a little teary-eyed,” she said. “They really do care.”
The Eakes family got to go on a dolphin cruise, take the little ones to play putt-putt golf, and be together. “Even in death, my son is still giving to us. This opportunity would never have come…,” Tammy said, not wanting to finish her thought. “There are people who give lip service to helping soldiers and families, but Operation R&R, and Grant, and Hilton Head, it’s just amazing people care that much. It’s hard to say how thankful we are.”
Property owners and businesses who would like to become involved with Operation R&R, visit http://usa.operationrandr.org.