Story and photos by Spc. John A. Martinez
Unit Public Affairs Representative, 17th Psychological Operations Battalion
SAN ANTONIO - “Fun, cool, and awesome,” is how 12-year-old Raven Vazquez described Operation Toy Drop-San Antonio.
“It’s cool that someone thought of us today,” continued Vazquez while playing with her new, stuffed pink animal.
For the second consecutive year, members of the 341st Tactical Psychological Operations Company participated in the Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop by dropping off toys at the Wilford Hall Fisher House on Lackland Air Force Base located here.
The Fisher House program’s mastermind was New York real estate philanthropist Zachary Fisher. His goal was, and continues to be, providing temporary housing, a “home away from home,” for families of hospitalized military personnel in their time of need.
Currently, the Fisher House Program has 58 comfort homes worldwide and live by their motto that a family’s love is the best medicine.
Like the Fisher House, Operation Toy Drop aims to provide comfort and peace to those that are in need, especially during the holiday season.
In 1998, then Staff Sgt. Randy Oler came up with the idea of combining his two favorite things, airborne operations and helping children. His operation started small, raising just 300 toys, but has grown into collecting more than 23,000 toys in 2011 alone.
Since its inception, the once small-scaled mission has turned into a nationwide event in six states, stretching from coast to coast.
For the first time this year, soldiers deployed to Afghanistan are also given the opportunity to participate in Operation Toy Drop.
Lt. Col. Robert B. Sentell, commander of the 17th PSYOP Battalion in Austin, Texas, has been an active participant for several years in Oler’s Toy Drop.
“I’ve participated in Toy Drop throughout the years, and I have seen it grow. When 17th PSYOP Battalion was given the opportunity to help expand the operation nationwide, we were very excited,” Sentell said. “For the past two years, the 341st has helped bring holiday cheer to children in need within the San Antonio area.”
“I served with Randy Oler, and I know, if he was still with us today, he’d be very pleased at how Operation Toy Drop has grown,” Sentell added. “He would be very proud of the soldiers of the 341st for helping to expand the operation nationwide.“
Though the kids are the ones receiving toys from Santa, it’s the soldiers that are left feeling like they’ve received a gift.
“To (be able to) come and share the wealth of what we have and be fortunate enough to pass on these gifts means a lot to us,” said Sgt. 1st Class Victor Escobar of the 341st TPC, San Antonio.
Spc. Amanda San Miguel also in the 341st further echoed Escobar’s comments.
“Today was about saying ‘we support you.’ For me, one word says it all - humanity,” San Miguel said.
The children also spent time with the soldiers, talking with them and exploring the Humvee the soldiers arrived in.
“Anytime you see children laughing and having excitement, you can’t help but want to do more and be excited yourself. This has truly been a blessing,” said Ramona Lewis, manager of the Lackland Air Force Wilford Fisher House.
As the day’s events drew to a close, one person gave his wish for Christmas.
“Being with my wife and daughter is the best wish I have for Christmas,” said Hans Shell, a current resident of the Wilford Fisher House while cradling his 14-month-old daughter, Olivia, and smiling with his wife, Jessie.