More than 160 New York National Guard soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan during the past decade will be the honored guests of Saratoga County early next year.
The new community respite program is modeled after one the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and local hotels and businesses offered a decade ago to the police, firefighters and emergency personnel who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City.
The new respite program for New York state soldiers was announced Monday at the New York State Military Museum on Lake Avenue in Saratoga Springs.
Hotels in Saratoga Springs, Clifton Park and Malta will be offering free or significantly discounted rooms to the soldiers and their families from Feb. 1 through April 30.
“Our goal will be to provide every soldier and their family with gift cards for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as free tickets to local events and destinations,” said Denise Romeo, the chamber’s vice president for membership services and the respite program coordinator.
“I came here personally to say thank you to the whole chamber team,” said Col. James Pabis of the New York Army National Guard and also a Saratoga Springs businessman.
Pabis, who was a local chamber member when the first respite program was conducted in 2002, said “the city rolled out the red carpet and the program was a huge success.”
He praised the chamber as well as the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau and local businesses for creating the new program to honor New Yorkers who served in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The first community respite program brought nearly 200 first-responders who helped in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks from New York City to Saratoga for weekends in 2002 in order to enjoy some peace and time away with their families.
Romeo said when the families of the more than 160 National Guard soldiers are counted, more than 350 people are expected to participate in the new respite program.
“This is a team effort that showcases the best qualities of our people: respect, compassion, appreciation, and charity,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, in a letter read by his district director, Steve Bulger.
Gibson said he had planned to attend the respite announcement but was called back to Washington, D.C., on congressional business.
“The Saratoga chamber and business community doesn’t just pay lip service to these ideals, but rather are stepping up in a very real and meaningful way to bring these words to life in a manner that is both thoughtful and caring,” Gibson said.
Romeo said that the chamber worked with the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau to create a single website on which participating hotels could post their available rooms. An email was created by the chamber that was sent to all qualifying soldiers inviting them to consider booking a vacation using this website, Romeo said.
“The chamber is now soliciting area restaurants and vacation destinations to put together gift baskets that the soldiers will be provided when they arrive at their hotel,” Romeo said.
The participating hotels include: The Hilton Garden Inn in Saratoga Springs, Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn, Holiday Inn, Longfellows Hotel and Restaurant, Saratoga Hilton, The Inn at Saratoga, Adirondack Inn, Roosevelt Inn and Suites, Saratoga Arms, Hampton Inns in Saratoga Springs and Clifton Park, the Holiday Inn in Clifton Park and Hyatt Place in Malta.