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What's Up Magazine

One Man Can Make a Difference

Oct 10, 2013 04:35PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Sarah Hagerty

Kevin Carnes is a big man with a big heart. He greets you with a big handshake and a big smile as you enter his home turf, The Four Points by Sheraton Hotel at BWI. He’s the hotel’s general manager and he beams as he takes a visitor through the lobby for a quick tour, which ends at the interior courtyard pool. “This is our pride and joy. You’d never know you were anywhere near an airport,” he says. And he’s right: tall, green trees circle this surprising oasis. You can’t even hear any airplanes—even though the Orioles’ Chris Davis could almost hit the terminal from here with a long ball.

Carnes is proud of this property and easily discusses its selling points. It’s clear what this place means to him. However, he’s a trifle more reticent when discussing what the hotel, and Carnes, mean to the public, especially our military personnel. This modest man isn’t apt to blurt out that the hotel provides about 400 hot showers a month to service people passing through BWI. These soldiers, sailors and marines have often traveled for two or three days just to get to Baltimore, the last leg of a long trip home. The opportunity to have the free use of a hotel room to clean up and change before one more flight to be reunited with loved ones is priceless. It’s a service the hotel has been providing for years in coordination with the airport-based USO. But this is no publicity stunt, so talking about it is relatively uncharted territory for Carnes. As is discussing his unwavering commitment to our military.

His dad was a WWII veteran (an airborne paratrooper—it doesn’t get much more committed than that), his older brother drove a tank in Vietnam, and his younger brother participated in Operation Desert Storm. Carnes himself was just never the right age at the right time to serve. And he’s always felt like the odd man out in his family, not to mention a little guilty. Some would say, however, that he has more than compensated.

In May of 2011, because of his many supportive community activities, Kevin was invited to a meeting of the Military Child Education Coalition—an organization that focuses on helping military families. During the meeting, Congressman C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger brought up the topic of the “Hero Miles” program that allows airline patrons to donate their reward points to military families. (A special bill had to be passed in 2003 to allow these donations since service personnel cannot accept any “payments” from civilians.)

It suddenly occurred to Carnes that the reward-donation concept could also be applied to the hotel industry. This could be a life-changing situation for military families who wish to stay near their loved ones when long-term medical care is required—often far from home. “If the airlines could do this, why not hotels?” Carnes figured.

Always resourceful, Carnes knew exactly which members of the Military Child Education Coalition to contact with his idea: Kay Ruppersberger (the Congressman’s wife) and Myrna Cardin (wife of Senator Ben Cardin). With a great deal of work and cooperation from many people and enthusiasm from even more, H.R. 3419, the “Hotels for Heroes Act”, has now become law, and many hotel chains (including AmericInn, Best Western, Choice, La Quinta, Marriott [the first to sign on], Starwood and Wyndham) have signed on to participate.

But perhaps nothing quite illustrates what a good soul Kevin Carnes really is better than the story of the special announcement/ reception, hosted by Ruppersberger, celebrating the kickoff of Hotels for Heroes. In his speech, the Congressman singled him out for a special acknowledgement and thanks. Unfortunately, Carnes didn’t hear it. He couldn’t attend the event because he had to take a friend to a doctor’s appointment.

Contact your hotel rewards program directly.

Contact the Fisher House Foundation—currently operating 61 Ronald McDonald-type facilities around the country to provide long-term living facilities for military families. The Foundation is also an active partner in the Hotels for Heroes program.

Contact the United Service Organizations—The USO’s succinct mission statement says it all: “The USO lifts the spirits of America’s troops and their families.”