Jumping into their 4th year, Operation SEAs The Day is ready to welcome wounded veterans and their families to Bethany Beach, DE. What began in 2013 as a compassionate idea has become quite the local event for eastern Sussex County. Following the attacks on our country on September 11th, 2001, two women from the Bethany Beach area knew that they wanted to help those who were returning home from overseas, but they just weren’t sure how. They had the general idea for Operation SEAs The Day, but they didn’t know if it would work. They placed an ad in the local newspaper searching for property owners who would be open to donating their rental homes for the week after Labor Day and the response was astounding. Thus began the inaugural event in September 2013.

So, here is the outline for the week: there will be a total of 32 VIF’s (very important families) traveling to Bethany Beach next week, which equates to approximately 220 people. Within this number, there will be 25 new families who have never participated in Operation SEAs The Day, 5 “Alumni Families” who participated in 2015 and 2 Family Operating Teams. At least one person in each family is a veteran of war and they have been wounded either physically or mentally during their service. This year, these families have been selected for Operation SEAs The Day through the Wounded Warriors Project and the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes.

They are scheduled to arrive in Bethany Beach on Tuesday and will stay for the entire week, leaving on Sunday. The goal of Operation SEAs The Day is to provide everything that they possibly can to the families during their stay. The Giant grocery store donates food so that the kitchens inside these rental homes are stocked upon their arrival. Local grocer G&E Hocker’s and the Hooked Family of Restaurants both donate to the BBQs that are scheduled during the week. Golf is provided by Bear Trap Dunes and The Freeman Stage keeps their doors open one week longer than usual in order to host a concert for the families of Operation SEAs The Day and public guests.

Other highlights of the week include a Spa Day just for the ladies, including a limo ride to and from with complimentary champagne bar. The many children (50 kids total this year!) will be treated to a Polar Express experience at The Salted Rim on Rt. 26 complete with a golden ticket and Santa Claus. Therapeutic Horseback Riding was added as an event in 2013 just in case anyone was interested and is now their most popular event of the week. The honored families also receive a welcome bag on Tuesday that is full of local coupons and certificates to be used in restaurants and shops. So many local businesses truly help to make this event as special as possible. To view the full list, please click here!

For every five of the new families, an Alumni family is assigned to oversee the needs of the families, specifically the veteran who is being honored. For most of us, we don’t think that a week at the beach can be a stressful outing, but for someone who is still trying to cope with returning home and to be moved out of their familiar surroundings, if only for a week, can be very overwhelming. The Alumni Families are there to help the family members and caregivers relax at their own pace. Many of the events that are scheduled and created for the week do not require prior reservations and can be enjoyed at their leisure.

Another important piece of the puzzle is the host families that volunteer their time for the week. Each veteran family is assigned a host family that is a local family from the Bethany Beach area. The host family is their area expert and is available to show them the area if they wish, make suggestions regarding local venues and events, and more. The host families are also there to help them with transportation needs and to procure babysitting services if the adults want to enjoy a little down time.

Most of the families who participate in Operation SEAs The Day are from the East Coast and several from other regions in the country. Most have never traveled to the beaches of Delaware and are overcome with gratitude and emotion from the welcoming that they receive during their stay. “This truly has become an event that has exceeded our expectations. The community swells with pride to help these families,” said event organizer Annette Reeping.

Most of the events scheduled for the week are private, but there are several that are open for public guests to enjoy. Please mark your calendars for the annual motorcade that is scheduled to leave Sea Colony on Friday, September 9th at 4:45pm and will arrive to the Bayside Community (located on Rt. 54) at approximately 5:15pm. Operation SEAs The Day invites everyone to line the streets to give these soldiers and their families a proper “Heroes Welcome” as they make their way to the evening concert that is hosted at The Freeman Stage. In their first year, five miles of Coastal Highway was bustling with a patriotic crowd waving flags and holding up posters, wearing their best red, white and blue. This year, it is expected that 100+ Jeeps will be on hand to line the street as the motorcade makes its way south. In addition, many first responders from Sussex County will be in on hand to guide the motorcade of school buses that were also donated by a local veteran.

There are several avenues that public guests can take to get involved with Operation SEAs The Day:

  1. Poster Pals – Each year, the organization asks the public to create welcome posters that are set along the road as the families arrive to Bethany Beach on the Tuesday following Labor Day. These posters will also be set at the Freeman Stage on Friday evening and at the farewell brunch that is scheduled for Sunday morning.
  2. T-Shirts For Sale – T-Shirts may be purchased at the Sea Colony Market Place Store, the Freeman Stage on Friday Night, and at the Car Show that is hosted by Cripple Creek Golf Course on Saturday. Proceeds from t-shirt sales go directly to a fund that provides each family with various gift cards to be used during their stay in Bethany Beach. Plus, they look super cool so you can sport a sweet new T and help the community at the same time!
  3. Give our heroes a true “Heroes Welcome” during the motorcade on Friday, September 9th.

To learn more about Operation SEAs The Day, we encourage you to visit their website and to be involved where you can. “What our veterans and their families gain from this experience is truly indescribable.  Our dream is that other communities will copy the model that we have created and will host their own Operation SEAs The Day week. We would be more than happy to help advise other communities who wish to make this dream a reality,” commented Reeping.

Photos provided by Mike McGowan photography.

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