14th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop: A toy's story
December 9, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Steven Blum, from the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, knew exactly what he was looking for when he stepped inside the busy toy store filled with holiday shoppers. As a kid, Blum, who's now a second lieutenant, loved anything with wheels and headed straight to the large remote control section of the boys' toy area.
"Well, I saw on the Operation Toy Drop website that one of the bigger needs for toys was for younger teenage boys," explained Blum. "When I was little, that was something I really enjoyed playing with. So, I decided that's something I'd like to give."
Thinking ahead, Blum picked up a remote control Ferrari and checked to make sure batteries were included or not -- they were. Smiling, Blum headed to the cashier to purchase his toy for donation.
"I'm pumped, I'm excited, and hopefully I get on a jump on the 9th of December," Blum said as he swiped his debit card. "We see that there are people in our own community who are less fortunate and this is the chance to do something to help them out that's unique to Fort Bragg and the airborne community."
Blum is referring to the 14th Annual Randy Oler Operation Toy Drop, a philanthropic project where Fort Bragg's paratroopers and visiting paratroopers from across the nation, donate toys to be distributed to children's homes and social service agencies across the country.
Paratroopers who donate a toy are entered into a lottery for the chance to earn foreign jump wings. Hosted by the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command and founded by Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler in 1998, this year's operation will host allied jumpmasters from 11 countries.
"I think it's a pretty cool idea. It's a win-win for both sides," explained Blum, who will be participating for the first time this year. "Children in need get to have a little something extra for the holidays and the paratroopers out there get the chance to earn foreign jump wings, which is pretty popular for guys to get."
The first Operation Toy Drop in 1998, with the help of Marine pilots, was very small and collected a small number of toys. In the years that followed, the operation continued to grow, raising more than 56,000 toy donations since it's beginning. Last year, the event drew more than 4,000 paratroopers, 10,900 toys, and 24 allied jumpmasters.
The 14th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop kicks off with the lottery on Friday at 8 a.m. Paratroopers who were not lucky enough to earn one of the limited seats manifested for each unit, get a second chance at the lottery by donating a new unwrapped toy. Blum hopes to get one of the more than 300 parachutes set aside for the lottery so he can earn a foreign jump wing from Ukraine, Uruguay, Cambodia or one of the other eight countries participating this year.
The airborne operation is scheduled for Dec. 10, on Sicily Drop Zone, at 7:30 a.m., and promises to be bigger and better, allowing more toys to be given to Families in need.
The public can also participate in Operation Toy Drop and it's festivities Dec. 10 on Sicily Drop Zone. Toy collection boxes are available at each post exchange on Fort Bragg and throughout the community surrounding the installation for people who would like to donate toys. The local hockey team, the Fayetteville FireAntz, will also be collecting toys during their military appreciation game, Tuesday, which they dedicated to Operation Toy Drop.
"(Operation Toy Drop) shows that not just the people local to Fort Bragg know that people are in need and want to help, but people around the world," said Blum. "Everyone knows that there's someone out there who could use a little something extra to brighten their spirits around the holidays."
Operation Toy Drop is now the largest combined airborne operation in the world. It is held by the Army Reserve's USACAPOC with the help of Pope Field's 440th Airlift Wing and the United States Army Special Operations Command Flight Detachment., and of course the participation of Soldiers from Fort Bragg's XVIII Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division.
On the way out of the toy store, Blum , with the remote controlled Ferrari in hand, smiled.
"The whole point of (this event) is to make someone better, it doesn't matter if we get on a jump or not, if we benefit or not, that's not the reason for this," he said. "It may be an incentive for some out there to participate but it's definitely about helping others out. It's a good experience for everyone."
For more information about donating toys, attending the event, or locations of toy donation collection boxes, visit www.optoydrop.net.
Operation Toy Drop is also on Facebook, search for Operation Toy Drop and "like" the page for the quickest, up-to-date information on the event.