Cruise ship geared toward young returning veterans seeks donations.

Young soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be provided with a free cruise to the Bahamas -- if the organziers can raise the money by November. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

ORLANDO – There are plenty of specialized cruise lines that cater to specific groups – some for seniors, or geared toward families, or maybe for certain religious or ethnic groups, for example.
Al Schroeder is organizing a cruise that will sail in December on Royal Caribbean, and he has two very specific goals in mind.
One is to provide this cruise to a select group of customers, entirely for free. This would be an all-expenses paid vacation for these men and women, and their families.
And second, he knows exactly who that targeted group will be: young veterans coming home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The theme of this endeavor – and also the name of the new organization that’s sponsoring it – pretty much says it all: the Thank You Veterans Cruise.
“The whole idea is something no one has ever done before,” said Schroeder, the program manager for this three day cruise to the Bahamas. The cruise will take place aboard the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines ship Monarch of the Seas, sailing from Port Canaveral on Friday, Dec. 7 – which also happens to be Pearl Harbor Day.
Schroeder said the cruise is a way to let young veterans who are coming home from those overseas conflicts to spend time with their family and loved ones in a relaxing, enjoyable setting – and to let them know their service in the Armed Forces was greatly appreciated.
“It’s especially targeted to young guards or reservists, the forgotten ones,” Schroeder said. “We have several missions – to get rooms on the cruise ship for these veterans, and to allow them to reconnect with their significant others.”
The project is being supported by the Cpl. Larry E. Smedley National Vietnam War Museum in East Orlando, which has embarked on a nearly year-long fund-raising drive to secure the money needed to book the rooms on the Monarch. The museum is now asking businesses and area residents to help the staff provide a memorable event to Central Florida veterans returning from their tour of duty in the Middle East, by making a donation to this cause. Donations will be collected through November.
“We’re trying to get enough people who will rent the whole boat,” said Eustace L. Horne, president of the National Vietnam War Museum. “We want to be able to give 500 state rooms to returning veterans, their wives and their kids – totally free. It will be a time for reconnecting with their families as these soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Their ambitious plans go beyond simply booking the rooms on the cruise ship, Horne added. If everything works out as they hope, “The ship will be escorted by the U.S. Navy,” he said. “Once we get over the three mile limit, the Air Force will do a flyover.”
After raising enough money to book those 500 rooms, Horne said the organizers then hope to spread the word about this project and convince other veterans to purchase tickets on the cruise and join the young soldiers and reservists who are sailing for free, thus filling all the rooms on the ship.
In addition, “We will take donations from people who can’t come,” Horne said.
“We need all the dollars we can get now,” Schroeder said, adding that the group has launched a web site, www.Thankyouveteranscruise.org, that allows people to make a donation to the cause.
“This web site will be up for a year,” he said. “It’s just getting cranked up now.”
Schroeder said he also hopes that if the ship brings together hundreds of veterans of all ages, it will provide the young ones returning from the Middle East with an opportunity to meet others and network about their job prospects back home.
“We want to just go ahead and let them network with each other, and connect with each other, and see what happens,” Schroeder said.
To learn more, call Schroeder, an advisor to the National Vietnam War Museum’s board of directors, at 407-679-6674.

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