FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 10, 2013) -- The sun had yet to peek over the horizon when hundreds of Soldiers came together for a run to kick off an event meant to honor the holiday spirit of giving.

Soldiers from more than 10 different units on Fort Rucker gathered on Howze Field Oct. 4 to join Command Sgt. Maj. James H. Thomson Jr., command sergeant major of the Aviation Branch, for a run to Santa's Workshop and to donate toys for Operation Santa.

"This year, (the Fort Rucker Sergeant Audie Murphy Club) thought that we should do something to give back to Army Families, because that's what we're all about," said 1st Sgt. Jeremy Lindner, SAMC president. "We're a group of NCOs and we're all about the Army, and any time that we can, we're going to help to benefit Army Families."

Thomson is a strong supporter of the SAMC and said the idea for Operation Santa came about during a meeting when a member mentioned a similar program at another installation. He said he was briefed on the program by Lindner and has been behind the endeavor ever since.

"Operation Santa not only benefits those Families who can use a little help during the holiday season, but also allows those looking for ways to give of themselves a venue in which to do so," said command sergeant major. "There is also a leader development component to this if you consider that our Army expects our NCOs to be leaders of character. What a great example this event is to demonstrate a visible representation of NCOs living up to the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer."

Thomson said he normally leads a quarterly run, but took this run as an opportunity to spread the word about Operation Santa throughout the different units on the installation and kick off the collection period.

"There are programs and initiatives, like Operation Santa, that organizations provide for the betterment of the community that many people are not aware of," he said. "I saw the NCO run as an opportunity to get the word out about this fantastic program to a large audience and give them the opportunity to contribute to the effort."

The run began at 5:30 a.m., and although it wasn't mandatory for Soldiers to bring a gift to donate, nearly every Soldier showed up with a gift in hand to be donated to those in need. Soldiers of the Fort Rucker SAMC were also on hand to gather the toys and set up the workshop that the toys will be stored in throughout the operation, and contribute anything they can to help the cause.

"I just want to be able to assist Families that are in need," said 1st Sgt. Crystal Figgs, E Company, 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment and SAMC member. "There are so many people around this time of year who need help and assistance, and it's just so nice to be able to give back to the community."

Although Operation Santa is a program to benefit Families around the holiday season, it's been in the works for months, according to Lindner.

Santa's Workshop was converted from an old World War II building that was slated for demolition, but the SAMC saw it as an opportunity to make a change.

"When we got (to the building), it was overgrown and just overall in a bad state," said Lindner. "We've spent the last couple of months cleaning it up and doing all the yard work … and we've been decorating it to get it ready in time for the run and to kick off (the collection period)."

People can donate to Operation Santa through the beginning of December at different locations, such as the post exchange, Bldg. 5700, the NCO Academy and Lyster Army Health Clinic.

The donated toys must be new, unwrapped toys valued from $15-25 for ages 2-17, but no stuffed animals.

Units and organizations that wish to collect gifts internally can arrange special drop off times by contacting Lindner or Sgt. Meghann Kobe.

"Fort Rucker is a phenomenal place to live and work … and there are competent and committed Soldiers and civilians on this post that make this the fantastic place it is," said Thomson. "There is a wonderful sense of community, both on Fort Rucker and throughout the surrounding Wiregrass region, and Operation Santa is just another program that fosters that spirit with our community."