FORT BRAGG, N.C. - “Randy was a gentle giant, his heart was so much larger than his six-foot- four inch frame,” smiled Master Sgt. Dwight Simon. “I can’t give just one memory that I cherish of him. He was just fun to be around.”
Simon, primary jumpmaster for the 16th Annual Randy Oler Operation Toy Drop, is one of the many friends of the event’s founder, Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler, who speaks of Oler’s larger than life appearance and an even bigger heart.
“I knew Randy for about six years, four of which I worked with and for him. At one time he was the HHC (Headquarters and Headquarters Company) Training NCO (noncommissioned officer), Operations NCO and acting first sergeant all at the same time,” said Simon. “I'm not sure how he did it, but he was able to handle all three jobs at once. As a young jumpmaster back then, it was a pleasure to learn from him.”
Hosted by the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), Operation Toy Drop is the largest combined airborne operation. The operation allows the military an opportunity to help families in need over the holiday season. Paratroopers bring an unwrapped toy to donate in exchange to earn foreign jump wings from countries around the world.
In 1998, the first Operation Toy Drop was very small and collected few toys. In the years that followed, the operation grew, grossing more than 100,000 toy donations since it’s beginning. This year, the event drew more than 4,000 paratroopers, 6,000 toys, and allied jumpmasters from nine countries.
“This operation is very large and at times it becomes difficult keeping up with all the moving pieces,” explained Simon. “We all work very long hours during Toy Drop but I can say I enjoy every moment of it.”
A 13-year veteran to Operation Toy Drop, Simon’s role this year is primary jumpmaster, who is the second man in charge of the whole operation. The primary jumpmaster’s duties include taking care of the other jumpmasters, both U.S. and allied, as well as ensuring they are prepared for whichever aircraft they use to conduct the airborne operation as safely as possible. This year, air operations included, C-130s, UH-60 Blackhawks, CASA 212s and German C-160s.
“Over the years I have really benefited from being a part of the jumpmaster team and training with our allies,” continued Simon. “I guess you can say I’m lucky to be the primary; this is my first year being primary for Operation Toy Drop. I’ve actually watched the role throughout the years, and actually had the chance to see Sergeant Oler act as the primary. I got to learn a lot of things from him.”
“But the best year I had during Operation Toy Drop was the year I got the chance to deliver toys to the orphanages,” continued Simon. “I had watched Oler, through late nights and early mornings, deliver toys to children years ago, and it’s humbling to continue on the tradition.”
On April 20, 2004, Sgt. 1st Class Randall R. Oler suffered a heart attack while performing jumpmaster duties aboard a C-130 aircraft. After his death, the operation was dedicated to him in memoriam.
“I was asked by one of our former commanders a few years ago, what I thought Randy would think about the operation today,” reflected Simon. “At that time, I told him I didn't think Randy would have liked it because it had become so large. After that year’s operation was over I had a change of heart; I think Randy would love what Operation Toy Drop has become … as long as he could just be in the background and not take any of the credit. That’s just how he was.”
Oler, a former Special Forces Soldier and Ranger, founded the operation with the help and support of friends around Fort Bragg and other military installations. Oler had the idea of incorporating airborne operations; foreign military jumpmasters and local charities-- friends and co-workers were with him every step of the way!
“It’s good to see how our allied jumpmasters conduct their airborne operations,” explained Simon. “Out of the (nine) countries we have, each one does something different. We show them how we do it and they show us how they do it, its good to get that experience.”
Not only does the airborne operation combine U.S. jumpmasters with foreign jumpmasters, it also combines paratroopers from around Fort Bragg. This year, paratroopers and jumpmasters from the XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division, U.S Army Special Operations Command and the U.S. Army Reserve Command participated with the support of Pope Field’s 440th Airlift Wing, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Flight Detachment, the German 61st Air Transport Wing and two Air Force Reserve units, the 145th and 910th Airlift Wings
“I think Operation Toy Drop is in a good place right now,” continued Simon. “It provides a great multinational training opportunity for our jumpmasters and paratroopers at the same time giving back to the community that supports us.”
Toys donated through the event will be distributed to children’s homes and social service agencies around the local community.
“I’ve sort of started the tradition of getting a boy and girl’s bicycle for the last four years or so,” smiled Simon. “I mean, every kid wants a bike!”
Simon says that nothing is better than combining the humanitarian aspect of Operation Toy Drop with airborne operations. Since visiting a family member at Fort Bragg in 1987, he knew that instant he didn’t want to be anything else but a paratrooper and he’s been doing just that here for 20 years. Originally from Johnstown, Pa., Simon joined the military in 1989 and is now in the U.S. Army Reserve, serving with USACAPOC(A). When Simon isn’t jumping out of airplanes, he is a civilian with the Department of the Army, also working for USACAPOC(A).
"I would like to thank everyone who played a part in the planning and execution Operation Toy Drop sixteen. Everyone’s hard work was very much appreciated and I look forward to working on Operation Toy Drop seventeen,” said Simon. “And as always, a special thanks to the ‘originals’ of Operation Toy Drop. The one’s who were there with Randy from the start, Becki (Caldwell), Scott (Murray), Willie (Wellbrock) and Mister (Harris) Luther.”