A retreat for military families

As Legionnaires and grateful Americans, we are continually looking for ways to thank active-duty military servicemembers and their families for their service and sacrifice. Three women from St. James, N.C., found a way and the local American Legion Post 543 is helping them fulfill their mission.

Eleanor Colston, Jean Fiedler and Chris Stitcher cofounded Operation At Ease (OAE), a nonprofit whose mission is to provide a complimentary relaxing weekend getaway to the scenic coastal community of St. James Plantation for Fort Bragg active-duty military personnel – who have deployed, or are about to deploy, to Iraq or Afghanistan – and their families. Since 2008, OAE has hosted more than 330 military families.

"It gives one a great deal of satisfaction to be able to help our military by providing them the opportunity to visit and have a relaxing time (at St. James Plantation) as provided by Operation At Ease," said Cheryl McGuire, a board member of OAE and wife of Post 543 Commander Don McGuire. "The people of St. James Plantation wanted to find a way to say thank you and show their gratitude for all that the military families do and sacrifice for their country. This is our way of showing that appreciation."

During the weekend retreat, families stay in privately-owned condos and receive food vouchers and complimentary access to tennis courts, three swimming pools, golf courses, massages, boat rides on the Intracoastal Waterway, kayaking, family pictures and more.

OAE has about 125 volunteers, including 23 active Post 543 members. The post helps OAE host its annual Military Appreciation Day – a golf tournament and picnic – and all proceeds are distributed between the two organizations.

"Military Appreciation Day has given the community the opportunity to honor our military (men and women) and veterans," said Cheryl. "Being a new post (chartered in 2012), it was an excellent opportunity for Post 543 to be part of this endeavor." Cheryl said thanks to the partnership OAE and Post 543 has formed, several OAE volunteers have become members of the post. "It’s been a win win for everyone," she said.

During Post 543’s mid-winter conference, a plaque signed by National Commander Dan Dellinger was presented by North Carolina National Executive Committeeman Jerry Hedrick for the post’s continued support of Operation At Ease.

OAE hosts families from March to October. To sign up for a weekend with OAE, visit: www.oaeamerica.org