Veterans get free vacations thanks to Tampa businessman

- And with that, Troop Rewards was born. 

The idea sparked Burkett to launch the veterans program in 2009. Troop Rewards gives soldiers returning home from deployment a free vacation, with lodging and meals.

"To get out of the house, take a little vacation and recoup. It's great. It's great for people," Higson said.

"When they come back from deployment, instead of throwing them right back into their life where everything has been built up while they have been gone... Take them away, in a no-stress environment. [They] don't have to worry about paying for anything, just enjoy time with their family," Burkett said.

Troop Rewards gives the soldiers get a flag and commemorative coin to remember their experience, as well.

Troops coming home from deployment can use a little R-and-R to reconnect with home. One soldier's story inspired a businessman to give troops a free vacation.

The first-time meeting for Army Sgt. Joseph Higson and businessman Tom Burkett was recent, but the two first talked over the phone in 2007.

"To meet him, I feel like I owe him everything," Sgt. Higson said.

Higson was in Iraq in 2007, but was about to come home from deployment. He wanted to take his wife, Britney on a belated honeymoon, so called Burkett who advertised a his condo for rent.

That rent was too expensive for Higson.

"He said, 'hold on a second. Let me talk to somebody.' He got back on the phone with me and said, 'what if I give you these two nights for free?'" Sgt. Higson recalled. "I just didn't know what to say. I was like, 'sir, that's amazing.'"

"I was like, 'wow, I can't charge. I can't charge him anything.'" Burkett recalled. "I mean, he's risking his life and I'm going to charge him to stay in my place for a couple days for a honeymoon. Nah, I not going to do that."

"I'm just absolutely grateful for everything he has done for us," Higson said.

Troop Rewards serves more that 100 soldiers a year. Burkett said he hopes to serve troops all over the country in the near future. Visit for more information. 


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