News: Building relationships one toy at a time
Story by Timothy Hale
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Building strong relationships and giving back to the community is the heart of a long-standing holiday tradition in the Sand Hills of North Carolina.
This year marks the 16th anniversary of the Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop hosted by the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), a U.S. Army Reserve operational command based here.
Toy Drop is a unique opportunity for soldiers based at Fort Bragg to donate a new, unwrapped toy to those families in need in the hopes of earning a coveted seat for an airborne operation with allied nation jumpmasters the following day at Sicily Drop Zone.
This year’s donation day will be on Dec. 6. The public is invited to watch the airborne operation the following day.
But organizers at USACAPOC say Toy Drop goes beyond the chance to earn foreign jump wings.
Maj. Aaron Clapsaddle, the USACAPOC G-3 Air officer in charge, said one of the tenants of civil affairs operations is to work with communities and build relations - in this case, one toy at a time.
“Oftentimes, people get fixated on the airborne portion of it ... but that’s not the main purpose of this,” Clapsaddle said. “The main purpose of this is helping people in need and trying to make a better holiday for those people.
“The jumping is great - and I love jumping out of airplanes. If a little piece of metal from a foreign jumpmaster entices someone to become charitable, then fantastic!” he said.
It takes hundreds of staff members to organize the toy collection and the actual jump. But the work doesn’t stop there. Distributing the toys is the biggest piece of the operation.
Sgt. 1st Class Christina Hipenbecker, the USACAPOC G-3 Air noncommissioned officer in charge, said the toys are collected and then sorted by age and gender. Then orders are filled that have come in through the toy distribution staff. From there, the toys are delivered throughout the area.
“We deliver to orphanages, hospitals, and the Fisher House,” she said.
“We also work with the chaplain’s office in order to get the amount (of toys) they need to support their Soldiers,” she said.
Hipenbecker said some people may not realize that many of the recipients of the toys are the families of military service members who donated a toy the day before.
“They donate toys to have a chance, because they feel like they have to sacrifice in order to support their own Families,” she said. “A lot of the need does come from the Soldiers.”
Hipenbecker said you don’t have to be a Soldier to donate.
There will be collection locations throughout Fort Bragg and the public can also bring a toy to Sicily Drop Zone the day of the jump.
In addition, special operation forces hold their own toy collection during SOF Week, which follows the public viewing event.
With the combined airborne operations and toy donations, about 3,000 people will have an opportunity to jump, she said.
Clapsaddle said it the operation may appear seamless to the public but there is a lot of work by soldiers that goes on behind the scenes from bus drivers to distribution staff.
“They get nothing from this other than the satisfaction of a job well done,” Clapsaddle said. “They are doing it because they want to contribute and I think that’s pretty awesome.”