Winter Park delivers wonderland for military family | SkyHiNews.com

Winter Park delivers wonderland for military family

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

Tonya Bina/Sky-Hi Dailyi News

“We’re like kids in a candy store right now,” Army bomb squad technician Jud Faust said under his breath, descending stairs in a newly built Fraser condominium.

Exclamations like “This is beautiful!” and “This is awesome!” were audible from the first floor.

He, his wife and three children had just arrived from Florence to the Valley in the midst of the season’s first big snowstorm. So much snow, in fact, the vehicle loaned to them was unable to make it up the drive at another property, so Destinations West, who’d arranged the family’s itinerary and lodging, switched accommodations at the last minute.

Haleigh, 10, Gabe, 7, and Gracie, 5, boomeranged in and out of bedrooms, leaping in excitement toward each newly discovered space.

“Her and I have to share a room back home,” Haleigh said about her little sister, pony-tail swinging as she returned to a loft space with a futon bed, “and I’ve always wanted my own room. Now I get one!”

If even only for a few days, the family’s getaway to Winter Park is a first. It’s also a rare chance to escape their usual surroundings.

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When mom, Mindy, a kindergarten teacher at Canon City Christian School, regretted for a moment that she and her husband didn’t bring the computer, Jud replied, “I’m glad we didn’t bring it. It’ll be nice to be unplugged for a few days.”

The Faust family is Grand County’s December guest as part of Operation Vacation, a nonprofit program that arranges mountain getaways for military families.

The program began in August, and in each proceeding month the community has pitched in to host selected families from Fort Carson near Pueblo.

In the last five years, Jud has completed three tours of duty overseas, in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq, serving to dismantle and dispose of suspect explosives planted by insurgents.

He returned home one month ago and is expected to be deployed again for another year’s tour. Having been there when the U.S. first invaded the country in 2003, stability in Iraq, he said, is gaining.

The media paints a dismal picture of civilians turning against U.S. occupation, he said, but that’s “not the majority of what is going on in Iraq. The majority of the people want peace, a job and reliable electricity.”

In the last 15 months he was there, the number of bomb incidents decreased considerably from four years ago, he said. During his last tour, he witnessed zero killings and “a handful” of accidents when people were wounded.

As far as going back, Jud said he dreads leaving his family again, but he accepts what’s necessary.

“I don’t want to leave my family … It’s my family. But it’s what I signed up for. I need to do what needs to be done.”

Haleigh wanders into the kitchen and, hearing her dad talk about leaving again, voices her disfavor.

The adolescent, her parents said, has been taking on more responsibility around the house in her father’s absence, such as helping to get school lunches ready for her brother and sister in the mornings.

“I’ve noticed a higher level of maturity in her … more than the average 10-year-old,” Faust said.

And Mindy is forced to take on roles of both mother and father. As the children become more involved in after-school activities, she said, the challenge of juggling busy schedules has replaced the former challenge of raising three much younger children.

“As a wife, I’m proud of my husband. He serves the country and puts his life on the line, but it’s hard for him not to be at home … and I’m a little burnt out,” she said.

Although her husband tries to soothe her fears when he tells her that “peace time missions are the same as war-time missions,” she said she has a hard time buying it.

“It’s kind of hard for me to comprehend that they’re the same. Here, you don’t have bullets flying at you. … Unfortunately, I know that if he has a bad day, he could die.”

Jud places situations beyond his control “in the hands of God,” he said.

“My biggest concern are the people I’m responsible for.”

The family moved to Colorado two years ago. One year, for a Valentine’s gift while Jud was away, Mindy decided to send her husband a keepsake from her home state of Florida ” none other than a pink flamingo. But the only place she could find one was at an adult book store called Fair Villa that had “a zillion of them in the front yard.”

When she told the store owner that she was looking for one to send to her husband in Iraq, the owner said she could have one for free in “support of the troops.”

Mindy notified Jud’s commander of the gag gift. When it arrived, it had red hearts all over the box. The commander instructed Jud to open the box in front of everyone in case there was “something illegal” inside.

“Oh, what has my wife done,” he had thought.

He pulled out the flamingo, and with it was a note that said, “My wife went to Fair Villa, and all I got was this lousy flamingo.”

He now brings it with him everywhere he goes, secured by bungee cord in his military vehicle. When confronted by a colonel about this misplaced “passenger” against the backdrop of war, Jud told him that it was part of his “personal protective equipment.”

“It’s saved my life, sir,” he told him.

It has now become a running joke in the family.

“We should have brought the flamingo!” Jud and his wife said laughing as they stood in the kitchen of the Fraser Valley condo.

Jud and Mindy hoped to spend the next two days relaxing, and the kids would do activities like pottery painting and snowboarding.

The entire weekend supported by community businesses, is “beyond generosity,” Jud said, and he and the family couldn’t thank the community enough.

Included in their vacation package was a Safeway gift card, vouchers for Winter Park restaurants such as Carvers, Subway, Rudy’s Deli, the Hungry Bear, Gasthas Echlers and $100 cash for souvenirs and incidentals.

“It takes a community to make this program successful,” said DiAnn Butler, Grand County coordinator of Operation Vacation and owner of Destinations West property management. She added that she hopes more businesses, such as restaurants, might be willing to join in on the cause.

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.

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