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Operation R&R: building family bonds, rewarding heroes

By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading | Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs | April 10, 2013

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- One Joint Base Charleston spouse, along with the help and support of the local community, is making a big difference by dedicating her free time to rewarding local heroes.

Nikki Weeks, spouse of Capt. Shane Weeks, 16th Airlift Squadron C-17 pilot (along with a team of sponsors, greeters and business partners) dedicates herself to providing service members who have recently returned from deployment, the opportunity to reconnect with their families. She does this by operating Operation R&R, the Charleston chapter of the non-profit organization.

The program is based out of Hilton Head and Charleston, S.C.

Property owners donate their homes and condominiums to ORR, providing service members who have recently returned from deployment and their families, an opportunity to spend time away from everyday worries.

It also gives these families a chance to strengthen their relationships, which are often strained due to long separations.

"Families accepted into the program are awarded a four to seven day stay in donated homes and condos in the Charleston area during our season," said Weeks.

A typical season for ORR runs from September through March. In addition to the free lodging, businesses offer discounts to the individuals; this includes restaurants, service-related companies, grocery stores and the opportunity to have a family portrait taken by a professional photographer.

"Simply put, Operation R&R is very awesome," said Weeks, in regards to the programs mission and success. "Seeing the faces of service members and their families reconnect makes everything worth it."

ORR was originally founded in 2008 in Hilton Head, S.C., by Dr. Grant Evans, who donated his vacation home to a Soldier and his family. What started as a random act of kindness has turned into regional and soon-to-be national movement. Today, more than 700 military families stationed at bases around the Southeast have enjoyed a free vacation courtesy of ORR.

"Operation R&R played a vital role in re-acclimating my family after two consecutive, back to back, deployments," said Lt. Col. Pete Reddan, 437th Airlift Wing Chief of Safety. "To have the opportunity to spend time away was invaluable to reconnecting, on a personal level, with my wife and son. Operation R&R directly improves any DOD members resiliency."

For Weeks, ORR is her full-time, volunteer job. But, she has also volunteered as a JB Charleston - Air Base Crossfit instructor and is currently a board member on the Team Charleston Spouses Club.

"Often times, people see photos of homecomings with families crying and hugging and everything appears great," said Weeks. "But, what is sometimes difficult to see are the weeks following the homecoming. Reintegrating after months away can be just as challenging as deploying. If what I've done has helped save even one family, then it's well worth the time dedicated."

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