News: 13th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop: The makings of an Army tradition
By Staff Sgt. Sharilyn Wells and Sgt. Felix Fimbres
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - “It has been the same thing every year — let’s raise toys for children. We got to do better than that,” said Scott Murray, XVIII Airborne Corps G-3 Air point of contact and liaison between U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) and Corps when the Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop is in full swing. “I’ve always envisioned Toy Drop going bigger and getting out to the community, instead of ‘keep it here, here’s your toy, I jump.’”
Murray, then a Sgt. 1st Class, never thought twice about the day he met Operation Toy Drop’s founder, Randy Oler, more than fifteen years ago. Murray was pulling drop zone safety officer duties out on Sicily Drop Zone one night and he recalls the first time he saw Oler, a Staff Sgt at the time.
“This van pulls up and this ogre, that’s exactly what I called Randy, he was an ogre and he goes, ‘Hey Sarge, I got a line [of jumpers] coming in,” Murray explained. “Randy didn’t have a DZSO, so he asked if I could back him up. I wasn’t going anywhere so I agreed. After his [jumpers] were out he asked if I needed any help since I had a big line coming in, and he hung around and helped me out.”
During their drop zone duty, they got to know each other and Oler started to explain to Murray about this big idea that incorporated Toys for Tots, with an airborne twist.
“If anyone knows me, my only weakness is kids,” said Murray. “So I said ‘Yeah man, that sounds great. What ever you want Randy.’ Randy said that when he got around to doing the operation he’d give me a call. Never thought much about it or getting up with him again. But he called me up one day [a couple years later] asking if I had remembered our conversation on the drop zone and asked for my help in putting [the event] together.”
With that, the first Operation Toy Drop was put into action in 1998. With the help of Marine pilots, the event was very small and collected a small amount of toys, but in the years to follow the operation continued to grow. Last year, the event drew more than 2,000 paratroopers, 2,900 toys, and 24 allied jumpmasters.
“The first two operations weren’t even named. That’s what was funny, they were just small because it was just a couple of non-commissioned officers getting together trying to help kids,” explained Murray. “This year it’s different and I’m really excited about it because everyone gets it — it’s about helping the kids. In the past, people didn’t want it to get any bigger because they didn’t want it getting away from it’s origins or what they thought were it’s origins. This year, we’ve gone outside Pope and Bragg and we’ve reached out to the community. Right now we’re on the cusp of where it could really explode; we’re asking where can we go now, where can we go after this?”
Operation Toy Drop has become the largest combined airborne operation held by the Army Reserve’s USACAPOC(A) with the help of Pope Air Force Base's 43rd Airlift Wing, the participation of soldiers from Fort Bragg's XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and Special Operations Command.
The operation gives the military community the opportunity to help families in need over the holiday season. Paratroopers bring an unwrapped toy to donate in exchange for the opportunity to get foreign jump wings from allied soldiers around the world. This year’s event will host allied jumpmasters from 10 different countries.
Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler, a former Special Forces soldier and a ranger, had the idea of incorporating airborne operations, foreign military jumpmasters and local charities into one event and his friends were with him every step of the way. The operation was named in honor of Oler in 2003 and was turned into a memorial after his sudden death from a heart attack in April 2004.
“The year Randy died, everybody came back because of Randy and we figured okay that was it. The next couple of years were pretty rough, not because of the loss of Randy, but because it was like a horse leading us to the barn. We knew where we wanted to go, but we just didn’t have the heart,” explained Murray.
“This year, something happened with us originals; we’re called the originals, the old timers, or the fuddy duddy’s — whatever you want to call us. We’ve been here since the beginning, and I think Randy would love it because he would be right here with us. CAPOC has a great line this year, ‘For the kids, from the Airborne.’ And that’s what it’s about.”
“There’s one story I like to tell. One year, we had a bunch of toys and Randy and I put ‘em in a van, and we drove out to Tennessee [Randy was from Tennessee]. We pulled up to an orphanage and the sisters there were in tears because they told us, those were the only toys those kids were getting. That’s why I come back every year. Maybe I lost sight of that after Randy passed, but I remembered that day and no child should be in that sort of position.”
This year’s event, scheduled for Dec. 11 on Sicily Drop zone at 8 a.m., is promised to be even bigger, allowing more toys to be given to families in need. Drop-off boxes will be available for the outside community surrounding Fort Bragg and the local hockey team, the FireAntz, will be collecting toys during their military appreciation games, Dec. 4 and 5.
“We’ve contacted museums, we’ve contacted organizations outside, and people say, Toy Drop is getting bigger and bigger. And it doesn’t have to mean size, it could mean we’re getting bigger in the community,” explained Murray. “We got Charleston Air Force Base who have thrown the gauntlet down and I think that’s is great. I know guys down there and they’ve talked to their base commander and he’s said, ‘we’ll raise more toys then Bragg’ and that is great. I’ve said this a million times, no child should ever not have a toy underneath the tree. And that’s really what Randy’s dream was, and that’s what Toy Drop is about. Every year Randy looks down, and some how every year we’re able to pull it together, so he’s doing something right, because we’re able to do it every year.”
“There are things about Toy Drop, like how I met Randy and the orphanage. But mostly, I remember last year a soldier pulled up in a truck. We told him that he couldn’t park there and he goes ‘No, no.’ Then he pulled the tarp off the bed of the truck and it was full of toys. He said he didn’t have a slot to jump, nor did he want to jump. He had just gotten back from Iraq and with his money he earned, he bought the toys for the kids. He said that he was an only child and that he just wanted to give back to others.”
“Randy would be tickled pink right now with how Toy Drop has become. Randy was the type of guy that I could rely on and expected to rely on others. And that was what Toy Drop was for several years, a handshake. Randy relied on you, and took you for your word. He held you to the same standard he held himself. We used to jump everyone who participated in Toy Drop. He didn’t have to do it, but he did it because that was his word and that was what made Randy special,” Murray said. “Randy considered me a friend and you know, I just hope that I can live up to that, because he saw something in me that I didn’t see. That was Randy Oler, shake your hand, and you could guarantee what he said was golden. His mountain dew and driving his crazy white van across the DZ, like a dune buggy. ‘Anybody want to ride with Randy?’ ‘No, no, no.’”
(Editors note: This is part three of a multi-story series that will explain what Operation Toy Drop is, who started it, and the people who have operated it since the beginning. This week’s topic is about Scott Murray, the XVIII Airborne Corps and U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations liaison and Corps G-3 Air point of contact. This story is about his connection to Operation Toy Drop.)
This work, 13th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop: The makings of an Army tradition, by SSG Sharilyn Wells and SSG Felix Fimbres, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.