FORT BRAGG N.C. – U.S. Army paratroopers donate thousands of toys for a chance to earn foreign jump wings during the 15th annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop, Dec. 7, 2012 at Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, N.C.
Hundreds of soldiers waited in lengthy lines, while tolerating cold temperatures, in order to receive a raffle ticket, which could earn the soldiers one of about 300 slots in the world’s largest multinational airborne operation scheduled, Dec. 8, 2012, at Sicily Drop Zone, Fort Bragg.
“The line wrapped around the building, all the way to the street,” said U.S. Army Pfc. Jordan G. Williams, a military police officer of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 508th Special Troops Battalion, Fort Bragg.
“It’s unbelievable crowds,” said Kelly Henry, local chapter director of the Blue Star Families organization, Fort Bragg. And seeing so many soldiers lined up to donate toys was astonishing, she added.
In fact, within hours – paratroopers and members of the community had donated more than 2,400 toys, which will be distributed to local children and social service agencies in need during the holiday season.
“It’s so nice to see so many American soldiers bringing toys for children,” said Dutch army 1st Lt. Mikael Kisjes, a jumpmaster – an expert parachutist, of the Dutch Defense Parachute School in Breda, Netherlands.
Kisjes, along with about 30 other jumpmasters from Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Uruguay, were invited to participate in the weeklong event by members of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) at Fort Bragg.
USACAPOC, according to their website, plans to collect and distribute more than 20,000 toys during this year’s event – surpassing last year’s donations.
Although getting a raffle ticket didn’t guarantee a slot, many of the soldiers participating in the event arrived hours before the start of the drawing.
Williams, a Plant City, Fla., native, said he arrived at 5 a.m. and there was already about 600 soldiers in front of him. “I was surprised to see how many were already here.”
However, one soldier in particular decided to show up after sleeping for only a couple of hours.
U.S. Army Pfc. Malcolm Andrews, a cook of the 307th Brigade Support Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, was the first paratrooper to arrive and he began to form a line at 1:30 a.m.
Andrews, a Pensacola, Fla., native, said his noncommissioned officers had told him about the event and decided to go since he realized how important the event was to him.
“To me it’s a big deal,” explained Andrews. “It’s a lot of people just giving – whether it be just to put wings on their ASUs or just to give a toy, it’s still the simple fact that they gave something, whether they were getting something in return or not.”
U.S. Soldiers, who parachute with foreign jumpmasters during the operation on Saturday, will have earned that respective countries’ jump wings, which can be worn on the U.S. Army Service Uniform.
Additionally, since Andrews was the first to arrive, he was selected to start the airborne operation on Saturday by being the lead jumper in a solo pass conducted by Italian jumpmasters.
Nevertheless, for Andrews and many other paratroopers participating, the emphasis of the event will continue to be the children in need.
“It’s the holidays,” added Andrews. “It’s all about giving.”
For more information about the Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop, visit http://optoydrop.blogspot.com.