Rory Smith and Army Lt. Col. Sarah Letts-Smith know just as well as any other military family the toll that a deployment can take on everyday life.
After 28 years of being the stay-at-home parent when his wife deploys for military service, Smith has learned to take nothing for granted –- especially family time free of distractions, the North County Times, Escondido, Calif., reported.
“When you get away and everybody unplugs, you get out there and you have conversations,” Smith said.
Smith and Letts-Smith, the owners of Best Buy RV on Los Alamos Road in Murrieta, Calif., started F4RV, a nonprofit designed to lend RVs to local military members who recently returned from deployment. The objective is to help these families rekindle their bond during a low-budget vacation.
F4 stands for For Free and For Fun, Smith said.
Smith just began lending out two 26-foot RVs for three or four days at a time. The RV only requires a standard Class C driver’s license to operate.
Service members who want to borrow the RV must be insured, and will be asked to refill the gas tank upon returning the air-conditioned vehicles that sleep up to six people.
Smith said he hopes local donations will allow for gifts of gas cards to help make the trips even more affordable for military families.
“We would never count on anything, but we feel there is a big need (for support) in our valley, because there’s not only a lot of returning soldiers and Marines, but there’s a lot of veterans and retired veterans, too,” Smith said. “We’re hoping it’s a win for everybody.”
Smith knows firsthand how rejuvenating a quick getaway can be for family members who have been separated for months.
In the past nine years, Letts-Smith has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. Each deployment caused the five family members left behind to readjust to a life without Mom, and each return is marked by a period of readjusting to a two-adult home.
Smith said he has made great use of the RVs while she’s gone as a way to occupy his children’s attention. The vacations are even more beneficial when his wife returns.
“What we found is, you really have to get away from the housework and the yard work and the homework and all the different work,” Letts-Smith said. “You have to get to a place where you don’t have anything else to consider except your family, and how much you missed them, and how much you appreciate them. When you get that gratitude back into your heart, then it’s a lot easier to get back to mowing the lawn.”
Smith and Letts-Smith have used their vacations to reconnect. Among their favorite places to go are parks on Camp Pendleton and in Oceanside. They also take trips to Mammoth and Yosemite, as well as Encinitas and other San Diego-area state parks.
“They’re all a day’s drive,” he said.