Two Georgia military families soon will set sail for the British Virgin Islands courtesy of a Florida couple and a Hilton Head Island charity.
The families were the guests of honor Thursday at an end-of-the-season luncheon for Operation R&R, a Hilton Head Island charity founded in 2008 to offer free vacations on the island to the families of service members recently returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The charity arranged free trips for more than 250 military families between September and May, according to the organization.
Army Chief Warrant Officer Paul Ashburn, wife Sunny and their three children were invited to the event after winning the organization's "Trip of a Lifetime" contest, which included an all-expense-paid vacation to the British Virgin Islands, use of a 46-foot Catamaran for a week and $1,000 in spending money.
The Ashburns were among three Operation R&R families selected by the organization as finalists. They were asked to write a letter about why they should win the trip. The readers of CH2 Magazine selected the winner earlier this month.
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"We are so looking forward to this," said Ashburn, who is stationed at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. "We've always talked about going on a vacation like this but just never had the time or the money to do it."
The trip was donated by Peter and Beth Busichio of St. Augustine, Fla., who said they recently became aware of Operation R&R's mission and wanted to help.
"We sincerely appreciate their efforts, and it was one way that our family could say 'thank you' to one of these military families," Peter Busichio said.
The Ashburns weren't the only beneficiaries of the Florida couple's generosity.
Army Sgt. Matthew Herschede and his family finished second in the contest but were surprised Thursday with a free trip of their own to the British Virgin Islands.
Herschede, assigned to Fort Stewart, Ga., said he and his family attended the luncheon to thank Operation R&R organizers for the family's weeklong vacation last year on Hilton Head and had no idea they would be winning another trip.
"These guys have done so many wonderful things for us," Herschede said. "The one week we spent down here really helped bring my family back together after my second deployment, and I can't wait to see where we go after spending a week in a place my wife and I would never thought we would get to see. It's such a wonderful surprise."