By 2nd Lt. David Chase
U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne)
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop, an annual toy drive for North Carolina families in need, kicked off Dec. 5, and will continue throughout the following week. A staple to the Fort Bragg holiday season for 11 years, Operation Toy Drop is an opportunity for reserve and active components of the Army and Air Force to combine efforts and give back to the families and communities that support them throughout the year.
The operation centers around collecting toys from paratroopers, who get to participate in an airborne jump supervised by foreign military jumpmasters. This is a rare experience, especially on U.S. soil, that offers valuable training as well as a special award for each Soldier's resume: that jumpmaster's host nation airborne wings.
In 2008, with the support of Fort Bragg units such as the XVIII Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division, as well as Pope Air Force Base's 440th Airlift Wing and dozens of North Carolina's civilian social service organizations, U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command and Operation Toy Drop raised over 3,000 toys to help deserving children enjoy the holiday season. Over 2,000 active and reserve paratroopers had the opportunity to earn either Irish or German jump wings in the process.
Throughout the morning, Fort Bragg Soldiers with games, stuffed animals and action figures filed into an open-bay building off of Pope Air Force Base's airfield, handing their toys off to staff workers, who sorted the gifts for distribution to one of dozens of local service organizations. In exchange, each paratrooper drew a number for the day's drawing, which continued into the afternoon.
In the Army tradition of selfless service, all of the men and women in uniform were honored to give back to their community.
"It's all about the kids," said Army Capt. Mark Flynn of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne). Flynn is the project officer for Operation Toy Drop. "If we make a difference in one child's life, it's all worth it." Flynn is a five-year veteran of the program, and has worn several hats in the project's leadership over the years. He is now at the head of the operation.
"This is a Reserve command," Flynn said, emphasizing that all of USACAPOC(A)'s Soldiers are warrior-citizens living and working throughout America. "As the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations command, this event is a Civil Affairs operation. Coordinating logistics, supplies and resources to give back to a community. That is what Civil Affairs does."
With the support of reserve and active components in the Army and Air Force, USACAPOC(A) has planned and run Operation Toy Drop from start to finish since one of its own Soldiers, then-Staff Sgt. Randy Oler, developed the original Operation Toy Drop in 1998. When Oler suffered a heart attack and passed away in 2004, the event that he'd dreamed up and managed for six years was named in his honor.
Many Soldiers in USACAPOC(A) remember working with Oler, and continue his work by helping Operation Toy Drop grow each year. Sgt. Claudia Arceo, who worked under Oler before he passed away, is managing the distribution of toys to social service organizations across North Carolina. "This is Randy's dream, right here," she says, amidst oversized cardboard boxes labeled "Infants", "Boys: 1-3 yrs.", "Girls: Teenagers" and every age group in between.
Every box is overflowing with toys.
Operation Toy Drop is expected to collect over 3,000 toys in 2008, which will be distributed to approximately 30 service organizations such as hospitals and orphanages, as well as to individuals Soldiers' families in need. Over 2,000 paratroopers will have the chance to earn either German or Irish airborne wings, with over half of them having done so during operations on Saturday, Dec. 6.
The operation was supported by the Air Force Reserve's 440th Airlift Wing, based at Pope Air Force Base, and the North Carolina Air National Guard's 145th Airlift Wing based at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The 440th provided two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and the 145th is providing one C-130. All of Saturday's paratroopers jumped from one of these three aircrafts.