By Lance Cpl. Brian D. Jones
Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Afghanistan
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Third Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment (Reinforced), and Combat Logistics Battalion 3 successfully conducted Operation Santa early Christmas morning, delivering mail and gifts to Marines and sailors throughout Southern Afghanistan.
Weeks of coordination, planning and preparation went into successfully carrying-out Operation Santa for the troops. The commanding officers of the battalions, Lt. Col. David L. Odom of 3/8, the ground combat element, and Lt. Col. Michael Jernigan of CLB-3, the logistics combat element, each elements of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, personally saw to it that all Marines' and sailors' mail and Christmas packages received by the battalions' post office were specially delivered by Christmas morning, boosting morale on the holiday.
Working with families back at Camp Lejeune, N.C., 3/8's home base, and various charities across America that sent Christmas stockings and care packages, the battalions engineered Operation Santa, so they could provide a little extra Christmas cheer for the Marines and sailors who are forward-deployed in austere locations, Odom said.
The two commanders made a four-hour trip to deliver the packages in two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, part of SPMAGTF-A's air combat element.
They traveled approximately 370 miles to make all the deliveries to five forward operating bases manned by their U.S. Marines and sailors.
Included with the 8,600 pounds of mail were 1,400 pounds of Christmas dinners complete with turkeys and pies, along with 750 pounds of holiday donations for the troops by schools, churches, families and other patriotic organizations. The Christmas spirit totaled an impressive 24 pallets-worth, weighing in at approximately 10,000 pounds.
A couple of weeks prior to the holiday, a generous offering was presented to 3/8 by Patty Lewis of Willow Grove, Penn. She contacted 3/8 through an e-mail on behalf of Moms4RMarines.org and requested to mail gift-filled, Marine Corps digital camouflage patterned Christmas stockings to all of the service members of the battalions. With only a small window of time to work with, Lewis, along with several other organizations, miraculously managed to get all the Christmas donations delivered just in time.
The final packages arrived to Camp Bastion, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, on Christmas Eve, leaving the Marines with just enough time to sort and load the stockings onto military aircraft for distribution to all of the service members early the next morning.
The holiday gift stockings arrived filled with boot socks, candy, toiletries, head lamps, pocket-sized games and much more.
"It was wonderful knowing people other than my family care to send us gifts for Christmas," said Lance Cpl. Jared M. Malimski, a supply clerk with 3/8.
To spread their blessings of generosity and Christmas cheer, the Marines of 3/8 shared their Christmas spirit with the Dutch military forces also stationed at Camp Bastion.
Both Odom and Jernigan extended their warm-hearted thanks to the families and organizations that generously donated, making Operation Santa an overwhelming success.
"I'd like to thank the Salamone family, Patty Smith, Boy Scout Troop 125 and the Slider family of Operation Support our Troops; the Brown family of the Blue Star Mothers of Spartanburg, S.C.; the Jones family of the South Washington County Military Support Group; Patty Lewis of Moms 4R Marines; the Saint Luke United Methodist Church of Hartsville, S.C.; the First Assembly of God in Griffin, Ga.; the Church of Saint Anne's School in Garden City, N.Y.; the Esquinas family and Cathy Hedrick," said Odom. "These are just some of the many fine Americans who have generously supported us."