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Vacation Cabin For Veterans

Operation Black Hills Cabin

An organization in South Dakota has discovered how to say thank you to veterans.

Operation Black Hills Cabin came out of an interview from South Dakota’s Tom Brokaw after appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2011.

The project co-founders Jeff and Pat Baird are retired Vietnam-era veterans who have assembled the 100% volunteer effort and more than 150 businesses from around the state to help furnish the cabin and provide recreational opportunities to the veteran and their family.

The cabin, which intentionally is not equipped with television and internet is fully equipped with all other comforts of home, including plenty of games and reading material. All the ingredients are there for the veterans and their families to do what they really come to the cabin to do – spend time together as a family.

You can read below of one family who enjoyed the cabin during the early October snow storm.

When the record-setting Black Hills blizzard hit in early October, families had no choice but to nestle in and use their time to get reconnected.

The Bennington family of Ohio had arrived in Custer, SD, a few days before the storm arrived. They were guests of Operation Black Hills Cabin, a non-profit project that provides a week respite for qualified combat-wounded veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and their immediate family. For this family of three, it was the first time they could bond as a family outside of the hospital since October 2011.

Sherri Bennington’s husband, who had completed several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was seriously injured in a bomb blast. For the past two years, he has been mostly in hospitals with little time alone with his wife and 7-year-old daughter. The cabin experience was to be a time to see the sites in the Black Hills and enjoy meals at the local restaurants.

But Mother Nature had other plans. A snow-storm set in on a Thursday dumping more than two feet of snow and making travel impossible throughout the region. The Custer Search and Rescue team couldn’t even get a vehicle up to the cabin. It wasn’t until Sunday that roads began to reopen.

But the Bennington family was fine as they had plenty of food and a warm place to enjoy the historic snowstorm in the comforts of the 6-month-old cabin.  Sherri Bennington said the snow was so high the family could not see the table and chairs on the deck.
“Living in southern Ohio, we had never heard of snow in these amounts,” she said.  “Our family would check in regularly to make sure we were okay. We were grateful for the Verizon (cell phone) service tower.”

The cabin, which intentionally is not equipped with television and internet is fully equipped with all other comforts of home, including plenty of games and reading material. All the ingredients were there for the Bennington’s to do what they really had come to the cabin to do – spend time together as a family.

However, they would love a return trip when the weather is a little more conducive to visiting Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and the many other Black Hills attractions. And they would be fine with not picking up another snow shovel during their stay.

The Bennington’s were the last veterans to stay at the cabin during its inaugural season. The permanent home was granted by the South Dakota Housing Authority to the project in March of 2013. The three bedroom two-bathroom fully accessible home hosted 12 veterans and their families this summer.  Veterans came from Ohio, Nebraska, Texas, Illinois, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Oregon and three families from Minnesota.

One veteran was a quadriplegic who had been shot in the neck by a sniper in Iraq. Another veteran had been in the hospital for two years with six surgeries and was able to get temporary duty leave to enjoy his Black Hills visit with his family.  Tragically, one veteran who visited the cabin with his family this summer died three weeks later. He had two Purple Hearts and three children with one on the way.

The project co-founders Jeff and Pat Baird were inspired by an interview conducted by Tom Brokaw on an Oprah Winfrey show in January of 2011. The Baird’s are retired Vietnam-era veterans who have assembled the 100% volunteer effort and more than 150 businesses from around the state to help furnish the cabin and provide recreational opportunities to the veteran and their family.  “The biggest challenge is sharing the story about the project with the Veteran community. When our combat wounded veterans return from conflicts, their lives are filled with medical appointments and the day to day details, usually with little time or money to get break from their routine,” said Pat Baird.
“This project is our way of saving thank you to veterans, she said.  “As more people hear about this project, we hope they will find a way to say thank you to all veterans meet.

There are many ways to say ‘Thank you’ and we welcome any stories about how you have shared your gratitude to a veteran to be posted at Facebook/operationblackhillscabin or on our website, www.operationblackhillscabin.org through the month of November.”
The organization is working to find interested qualified veterans for next season.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT
Pat Baird at 605-517-0065
Carol Johnson at 605-880-5094

Source:  Shannon McCoy, Media One

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