As an Army soldier, your job is to serve, and for many soldiers, getting time to spend with family is not always easy. But on Christmas weekend, Fort Hood Staff Sgt. John Bell, his wife, Crystal, and daughter, Sophie, were provided with a holiday trip to Austin, courtesy of Operation Vacation.

The initiative to support U.S. servicemen and women at Fort Hood is a partnership between Rotary Club of Austin, the Killeen Rotary, County Line Restaurant, the Austin Hotel Lodging Association, Killeen Toyota, Around Austin, Super Shuttle and the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Each month, the program brings a Fort Hood enlisted soldier and his or her family or spouse to Austin for a weekend of rest and relaxation.

The Bell family was welcomed by a giant Christmas tree in the lobby of the Intercontinental Steven F. Austin Hotel and greeted by the hotel General Manager Steve Juscen and two members of the host group, Mary Reynolds and Brad Wiewel of the Rotary Club of Austin.

The family’s weekend started with a gift bag of goodies including park passes to Austin Parks and Pizza and bowling at Dart Bowl and a large stuffed animal and toys for Sophie.

The hotel provided all their meals while the family was in town except for their Saturday night dinner, which was barbecue and all the trimmings hosted by County Line on the Hill.

Crystal Bell said John Bell had just returned from nine months of duty overseas before having to return to work with no time off so the family time was even more meaningful, officials said.

The soldier also expressed his gratitude to the organizers for choosing his family.

“Thank you. We had the best time and felt like we were VIPs everywhere we went. It was truly a wonderful experience,” John Bell said in an email.

An official with the program said Fort Hood chooses the family or couple every month who gets the vacation.

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