Reality Check: Operation ReConnect
GULF SHORES, Ala. (WPMI) —
Military veterans and their families sacrifice daily so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today.
But a local non-profit is giving back and helping veterans who return from deployments, as well as their loved ones, enjoy the Gulf Coast beaches free of charge.
The rush of the waves and the beautiful sugar white sands of Gulf Shores are sights and sounds that never get old.
But it's often easy to forget why we're able to enjoy it at all.
The reason is because of the sacrifices of military members and their families.
Retired Sergeant Jamie Law spent 13 years in the Army. For 2 years, he was stationed at a military base in Iraq.
"We'd go out in the field for maybe 30 days then come back just to clean our equipment and we were back out there," said Law.
During the time Jamie was gone, Lori Law, his wife of 10 years, spent the days caring for their 4 children and taking care of business.
"You have the everyday chaos. Football practice, basketball practice, you have to pick up the children," said Lori Law.
But thanks to Operation ReConnect, a local non-profit organization, Law's family spent an entire week in October at the beach. It was the first real vacation they've ever had together.
"We discussed things that we hadn't discussed before. We were looking for sea shells and crabbing or sword fishing. You know things that you don't get to do everyday," Lori Law said.
"It was the greatest experience we've ever had. It was unbelievable," said Jamie Law.
A priceless experience, which could cost thousands of dollars, cost them nothing.
Operation ReConnect's founder, Gulf Shores native and Air Force Staff Sergeant Ryan Charrier, came up with the idea while stationed in Afghanistan in 2014.
Charrier was inspired after a fellow Airman confided that his family had never been on a vacation.
"I sent some emails to some of my contacts here in Gulf Shores. About a week later, we had a response with a condo that had been donated for that family's use," Charrier said, "That was the exact moment I knew this was my life's purpose."
Upon returning home, Charrier says he went door to door and secured donors.
Since becoming incorporated in 2015, Charrier says they've served over 85 families from across the country and given away more than $250 thousand in meals, accommodations and activities.
"We look at it as the veterans have already paid for this. They've already sacrificed and their families have made major sacrifices," said Charrier, "I feel like the least we could do is to let them enjoy the freedoms that we all get to enjoy on a daily basis."
If dozens of families' cherished memories are any indication, it's safe to say: mission accomplished.
Staff Sergeant Charrier says any veteran who has been deployed to a combat zone is eligible to register.
If you're interested in registering or volunteering, you can do so by visiting the Operation ReConnect website.
There are several upcoming events donating funds to Operation ReConnect, including the Big Beach Marathon at the Hangout in Gulf Shores on January 29.
Also contributing is the Flora-Bama Fishing Rodeo June 2-4.