Local inns offer free stay for returning Vt. National Guard
MIDDLEBURY — A group of 18 Vermont inns and bed and breakfasts, led by the owners of the Swift House Inn in Middlebury, are offering free stays this winter to members of the Vermont National Guard, many of whom are returning home from a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan.Nearly 1,500 Vermont National Guard soldiers are returning home from Afghanistan after participating in the Vermont Guard’s largest mobilization since World War II. The first soldiers returned home before Thanksgiving, and the rest are expected home by Christmas.“These fine men and women have endured incredible circumstances that most Americans can’t even imagine,” said Dan Brown, co-owner with his wife Michele of the Swift House Inn. “My fellow innkeepers and I wanted to do something to recognize their service and tell them, in a heartfelt way, ‘Welcome home.’”The 18 inns, all members of Select Registry, Distinguished Inns of North America, are offering a free one-night stay to any returning Guard member during the months of January, February and March 2011; the offer applies to stays on Sunday through Thursday nights.Brown said the inns will take anybody who serves in the Vermont Guard, or Vermonters who serve in the Guard at bases in nearby states, the soldiers don’t have to be returning from a deployment.“You may not be on the tip of the spear, but if you weren’t doing your job here they couldn’t do their job there,” he said.Brown, regional director for this group in Vermont, organized the promotion and presented it to his fellow innkeepers last weekend. He is a retired U.S. Navy pilot with 27 years in the military. The Browns also have two sons in the armed forces. Son Aaron is currently active with the Navy in the Middle East. Son Ryan, who served in the Navy for 13 years, left the service and is now in the Royal Navy of New Zealand, where he is anticipating deployment to Afghanistan.Brown was inspired by seeing reports of returning servicemen and women.“I can’t tell you how many times me and my wife have been in front of the TV teary-eyed watching them come home,” he said.He recalled a national program that offers veterans a free night at a B&B on Veterans Day, and he figured he could do the same for Guard soldiers now, rather than weight until next November. Plus, in his position at the Select Registry, Distinguished Inns of North America he figured he could get other innkeepers to do the same.“I said I’ve got 18 or 19 friends I could shame into joining us, but I didn’t have to shame them, they thought it was a great idea, too,” he said.In all, at least 1,200 rooms have been offered to this program. Although inns have some fixed cost that they must absorb whether a room is occupied or not, Brown said hosting the Guard members will add at least $30 of $40 in costs the innkeepers because of the need to clean the room and other incremental costs.This is clearly not a program to fill rooms during a slow season. Brown said February is always a busy month at the Swift House and January and March are also pretty good.“At the mountaintop inns, this is their busy time of the year, and they all said yes,” Brown pointed out.Although the offer of free rooms was made for selfless reasons, Brown said there could be some benefits to both the inns and the towns in which they are located. “Any time you do something with goodwill there is always some kind of payback,” he said. “If we fill these 1,200 rooms, that’s a lot of goodwill. I do think there will be a lot of benefit around the community.”Guard members wanting to take advantage of the offer need only to contact one of the participating inns. The inns hope to have a Facebook web page devoted to the program up sometime this week, and the individual inns are expected to mention it on their own websites.