Wounded veterans getting a break at the beach


September may be the most pleasant time of year at the beach. The summer rush is over, but the warmth lingers. It’s the perfect time to begin a new tradition for wounded veterans: Operation SEAs the Day.

The program has one simple mission, to give 25 wounded soldiers and their families a week of rest and relaxation. That means 25 local homeowners will donate their houses for military families to enjoy a coastal retreat from Tuesday, Sept. 3, to Sunday, Sept. 8.

For an idea that just began this year, organizer Richard Katon of Montgomery Co., Md., said, the program probably has enough support to continue next year.

“Everyone knows the crisis these ‘wounded warriors’ are in … to come back with their injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder and try to enter the community; but everybody feels helpless, like, ‘What can I do?’” Katon said. “We give people the opportunity to know they can help.”

Each military family will arrive to find a gift basket loaded with gift certificates and goodies designed to make their stay even more comfortable. Local businesses have donated everything from meal vouchers and spa services to golfing and kayaking.

“The community has just opened their hearts to this, and we’re just very thrilled with that response,” said Katon. “I knew this was a nice thing that we had, but when you hear how anxious some of the families are to get away and have this kind of vacation, it’s very heartwarming.”

Families are coming from all parts of the country and on the recommendation of several organizations, such as the military medical facilities at Fort Belvoir, Va., and Bethesda, Md., as well as the USO, Wounded Warrior Project and the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes.

“The USO chooses warriors who were most in need of a place to get away and relax and help facilitate their transition back into civilian life,” Katon said.

The soldiers are both men and women, and they get to bring their families, as well.

“I’d like for the community to know who they are, if they see them walking through town, and say thanks,” said Katon. “Say ‘thank you’ in whatever way [you] can and appreciate what these guys have gone through. They really deserve a break. … A lot of them are really struggling.”

The families can participate in as much or as little of the organized activities in the Quiet Resorts as they want, whether attending several group picnics or quietly enjoying the beach. The generosity of the community could make this an entirely expense-free vacation.

To help fund Operation SEAs the Day, T-shirts were printed and sold all summer. They’re still available at the Sea Colony Beach Shoppe in the Marketplace at Sea Colony.

The idea for the project originated when Katon happened to meet Diane Pohanka on an international flight, both of them having a mutual acquaintance. They both mentioned wanting to help veterans, and soon pulled in Becky Johns to assist. The “unlikely trio” soon found that “everybody seems to want to go the extra mile” to help the mission.

“Hopefully, in the future, we will do it with more,” said Katon. “I hope other resort-type communities pick up on this and offer something like it. This is such a big need, and it’s such a feel-good thing to do. It’s a real win-win for everyone.”