May 2008

Helicopters and Humvees Cause a Mighty Roar

Author: Paul deVere | Photographer: John Brackett

Hilton Head Island’s 25th St. Patrick’s Day parade definitely got off to a “roaring” start as two Apache helicopters did a dramatic flyover along the parade route and two military Humvees, from the Third Infantry Division of Ft. Stewart, Georgia, headed off the popular island celebration. The soldiers manning the vehicles got the loudest cheers of the day and a standing ovation.

Staff Sergeant Deanton Stokes, who was in the lead Humvee, said, “Grant told us we would play an important role. We just didn’t realize how big our portion would be.” The “Grant” Stokes was referring to is Grant Evans, founder of Hilton Head Island’s “Operation R&R,” a program that provides soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families, a complimentary vacation on the island. Evans arranged for the soldiers’ presence. Twenty thousand spectators at the parade cheered them on.

Sergeant Stokes, a native of Pensacola, Florida, admitted being surprised by the response. “We got such a supportive response from the civilians. Every time we rolled by, we had civilians standing up, clapping for us,” he said. “When they came up and wanted to take pictures with us, it showed us the value of the job we do. We tend to forget the importance of that.”

Operation R&R will have sponsored dozens of mini-vacations for soldiers by the end of May. The program will begin again in September. Beach Properties and Atlantic Community Bank are the major sponsors. A growing number of area restaurants, shops and services are pitching in to make the soldiers’ stays even more memorable.

“The generosity of this community so outstanding,” Evans said. And I know the soldiers and families appreciate every minute they are here.”

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