Operation Vacation draws national interest | AspenTimes.com

Operation Vacation draws national interest

April E. Clark
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Bob Johnson shows colleague Scott Werking the two-page spread on Operation Vacation in People magazine. (Kara K. Pearson/Post Independent)

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Bob Johnson and Operation Vacation have gone nationwide.

In the April 9 issue of People magazine, Johnson is the focus of the magazine’s “Heroes Among Us” feature. Since People hit national newsstands Friday, Johnson has received calls and e-mails from all over the United States, including California, Alabama and Illinois.

“A lot of them are coming from the east coast, the Midwest, the California area,” Johnson said. “I’ve already had seven requests about nominating soldiers to participate.”

The People feature highlights the Operation Vacation program, which Johnson started in August 2005 to provide all-expenses-paid vacations in Glenwood Springs for Army soldiers who have served overseas. Since launching Operation Vacation, Johnson has welcomed nearly two dozen soldiers and their families to three days of recreation and relaxation in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“I’m just excited the program is growing,” Johnson said. “It’s giving Glenwood attention and doing good for the town, which I like.”

The People magazine feature is the first big national press Johnson has received since founding Operation Vacation. On Monday, CBS Radio interviewed him for a spot. Over the last year, Johnson has been recognized in the state of Colorado, with Denver TV stations 9News and CBS4 Denver airing stories on his efforts. In October 2006, 9News named Johnson the month’s 9Who Care Award winner.

“We’re always trying to get the word out,” Johnson said.

Operation Vacation is sponsored by Glenwood businesses who provide meals, entertainment, outdoor activities, lodging and transportation for the military families. Over the weekend, Johnson secured sponsorship opportunities with Frontier Airlines to assist with Operation Vacation transportation.

“We’re going to strictly focus on Colorado with Frontier,” he said.

The program is branching out to Winter Park and Texas, with Fort Hood joining Fort Carson’s ranks as an Operation Vacation participant.

“We’ll be doing it in Dallas and the Austin-Waco area,” Johnson said. “But we’re also proposing it on a case-by-case scenario.”

Johnson used an example of an Alexandria, Va., woman who wrote him requesting a trip for her husband, who is serving in Iraq. Or Army Spc. Gwendolyn Shelton, whose three daughters live in Alabama with Shelton’s mother when she is deployed. Shelton and her mother, Frankie Thomas, visited Glenwood in February 2006.

“We’ve received a lot of input and requests,” Johnson said. “It’s going to keep snowballing.”

Johnson is so busy with requests – especially this week – he’s seeking a volunteer high-school intern to assist with answering e-mails and calls.

“I need help with responding to requests,” he said. “They’ll be able to learn about business.”

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