FORT BRAGG, NC, UNITED STATES
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Paratroopers from Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 5-73rd Cavalry are starting to purchase toys for donation for this year’s 15th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop, hosted by U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne).
Operation Toy Drop gives an opportunity for soldiers to donate a gift to underprivileged children in local areas for the holidays and in return allows an opportunity for that same paratrooper to train and jump with a foreign jumpmaster.
“I send soldiers to do it, because it’s kind of a reward,” said Capt. Jason T. Walsh, the 5-73rd HHT commander. “The guys do well, and I think they should have an opportunity to get foreign jump wings.”
Having foreign jump wings is a connecting factor that brings soldiers together no matter where they are from.
“Soldiers with foreign wings can look at each other and feel a sense of camaraderie knowing they both have something unique,” said Walsh. “To combine such a reward with something even more rewarding, is great for our soldiers.”
“We get to give toys to little kids who deserve toys at Christmas, and some of these children might even be soldiers’ kids,” added Walsh.
Although this is an individual and voluntary effort, some units strongly encourage all of their soldiers to take part in Operation Toy Drop and use “hard slots” as way to stimulate soldiers’ participation. If a soldier is not hard slotted then they can participate in a lottery, Dec 7, where 500 slots are given to the paratroopers.
One platoon sergeant has decided to be giving in more than one way each year.
“Usually, I give my ticket to somebody else who doesn’t have foreign wings,” said Sgt. 1st Class Clark Hitchcock, a medical platoon sergeant for HHT, 5-73 Cav. Hitchcock currently holds three foreign jump wings from Chile, Thailand, and Germany, which took over nine years to accumulate.
Operation Toy Drop inspires people to give and come together in helping needy families during the holiday season. This airborne operation has quite an impact on soldiers and their morale throughout the post.
“It gives them something tangible they can walk away with,” said Hitchcock. “It makes their experience here at Fort Bragg a unique one, being able to donate a toy and jump with foreign jumpmasters. One thing I like about it is you hear the stories and come back to the platoon and you see different guys comparing their different wings. They go to a ball and that’s something different they have on their chest,” said Hitchcock with a heartfelt smile from ear to ear. “That’s the nice thing about it.”
Aside from the excitement over the possibility of receiving foreign jump wings, these paratroopers delight in picking out the toys they are going to donate. The children are what inspire some people as to what toy they select for donation.
“Last year I donated a bicycle, and before that it was a baseball glove and ball, and another time it was a toy train set,” said Hitchcock.
He said his method for picking a toy is to go to the toy store and ask the first kid he sees what he would want for Christmas, and this would be his decision for donation.
Other soldiers use reflection of their personal lives to influence what kind of toy they choose for Toy Drop. Spc. Ethan Quebodeaux, a medic with the 5-73rd, decided to buy Play-Doh as his toy for donation, because of his childhood experience with Christmas.
“I grew up in South Louisiana,” said Quebodeaux. “So we do a lot of evacuations because of hurricanes. I’ve evacuated so many times and there are shelters you can go to where little kids will get toys. I always remember every year getting Play-Doh – always fresh and soft and never dried out. So every time I have to get something for a child, I get Play-Doh.”
Quebodeaux said he also likes the Play-Doh option, because it caters to both a young boy and a young girl. This is important to keep in mind, because sometimes there can be too high of an influx of boys or girls toys.
From the first Toy Drop where a couple hundred donations were collected to last year’s total of over 20,000, Fort Bragg soldiers continue on with the tradition which was started by Randy Oler 15 years ago. For Oler it was all about the children and it stays the same for today’s soldier.
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This work, 5-73rd prepares for Operation Toy Drop, by SPC Lalita Hazelett, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.