Veteran soaks up R&R in Glenwood | AspenTimes.com

Veteran soaks up R&R in Glenwood

April E. ClarkGlenwood Springs correspondent

The Roaring Fork River’s cool, rushing water is a far cry from the scorching sand in Iraq.Pfc. Ian Vanderheide certainly wasn’t complaining.Saturday, the Army veteran was thigh-deep in the river as Dave York, owner of Roaring Fork Outfitters, gave pointers on fly-fishing. Vanderheide and his wife, Heidi, of Colorado Springs arrived in Glenwood Springs Friday as part of Operation Vacation, a program that brings military personnel who have served overseas in war, and their families, to the valley.”Operation Vacation is just for the soldiers, just to reward them directly,” said Bob Johnson, an agent for Vicki Lee Green Realtors who created the program six months ago. “We live in one of the vacation destinations of the U.S., so why not bring soldiers here for a free vacation for three days?”Operation Vacation, which works with the Army, has already enrolled six soldiers to participate for the next six months. More than 20 businesses have donated dinners, entertainment, outdoor activities, lodging, transportation and other amenities to honor those who have served overseas.Taking care of their visitors really means taking care of their visitors.The couple enjoyed some of the best features Glenwood has to offer. They drove a 2005 Cadillac for the weekend, took a dip in the Hot Springs Pool, explored Glenwood Caverns and ate dinner at the Glenwood Canyon brewpub.”All activities, lodging and transportation are comped. I even got funds raised for $100 in incidentals and tips for servers,” said Johnson, who thought of the idea while watching concerts for military personnel in Iraq over the holidays. “All they need is a camera and their clothes.”The complimentary program is just what the doctor ordered for Vanderheide. After 62 days in Iraq, he returned to the states in May with a dislocated and fractured left shoulder. He was injured when the Bradley fighting vehicle he was riding in flipped during a mission.The dangers of war are many, and some of Vanderheide’s comrades have not been so fortunate.”A couple of guys from my platoon were killed over there a month after I left,” said Vanderheide, who attended both funerals. “No one’s making people sign up, and there are chances involved.”The memories of war may still be with Vanderheide, but the reality of a well-earned vacation is a welcome break.Originally from St. Louis, the 30-year-old former Anheuser-Busch distributor with a solid build joined the Army two years ago. Vanderheide wanted to enlist eight years ago but was ineligible.”I tried to join in ’97, but they wouldn’t let me,” he said. “I just had brain surgery because of a car accident.”After Sept. 11, 2001, Vanderheide decided it was time to try again. This time, the Army was happy to oblige – Vanderheide graduated from basic training in August 2003 and was deployed to Iraq on Feb. 28 from Fort Carson near Colorado Springs. He will be heading back to Iraq after his shoulder heals – and he’s ready to finish what he started.”As soon as it gets better, I’m going back,” he said. “I have no problem with it.”Vanderheide said he stands behind America’s occupation in Iraq and believes the people there do, too.”I had an Iraqi kid run up to me and give me money, say ‘Thank you,’ then run off,” he said. “My sergeant said he had never seen that happen before. I just don’t think we’re fighting Iraqis anymore – it’s more foreign fighters. The Iraqis, they just don’t want us to leave.”For now, the Vanderheides will enjoy their vacation in the mountains, where rivers cut through the landscape and the hot desert of Iraq is 7,038 miles away.