By Lucille Anne NewmanDecember 12, 2008
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, Dec. 12, 2008) - More than 2,000 Soldiers donated over 3,000 toys for a chance to earn foreign jump wings during the Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop Dec. 5-6 at Sicily Drop Zone.
Sponsored by U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, Operation Toy Drop began in 1998 by Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler.
After Oler died in April 2004, the event was renamed in his honor and the toy drop has continued to grow over the past 10 years.
Every year the event has drawn thousands of Soldiers, and has collected and donated more than 35,000 toys total.
The toys collected will be distributed to more than 30 service organizations such as hospitals and orphanages, as well as to individual Soldiers' families in need.
Throughout Friday morning, Fort Bragg Soldiers with games, stuffed animals and action-figure toys filed into an open-bay building off of Pope Air Force Base's airfield, handing their toys off to staff workers.
The gifts were sorted for distribution to one of dozens of local service organizations. In exchange, each paratrooper drew a number for the day's drawing to see who would be the lucky one to chosen to jump for foreign jump wings.
The drawing continued into the afternoon. In the Army tradition of selfless service, all of the men and women in uniform who participated said they were honored to give back to their community.
"It's all about the kids," said Capt. Mark Flynn, U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), project officer for Operation Toy Drop. "If we make a difference in one child's life, it's all worth it."
A five-year veteran of the program, Flynn has worn
several hats in the project's leadership over the years and is now head of the operation.
"This is a Reserve command," Flynn explained about USACAPOC Soldiers. "As the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, this event is a Civil Affairs operation. Coordinating logistics, supplies and resources to give back to a community. That is what Civil Affairs does."
Many of the Soldiers in USACAPOC said they remembered working with Oler, and volunteered to continue his work by helping Operation Toy Drop grow each year.
"This is Randy's dream, right here," said Sgt. Claudia Arceo, who worked under Oler before he passed away.
Arceo is managing the distribution of toys to social-service organizations across North Carolina.
In exchange for the donations, paratroopers who participate in the event were given their choice of foreign jump wings. This year they had a chance to jump for either German or Irish jump wings.
Those participating for the first time found the event rewarding.
"The jump was awesome. That's the only word that can describe it," said Sgt. 1st Class David Schuteman, 118th Military Police Company, after receiving his German jump wings. "I'm really looking forward to doing this again next year."
Spc. Manuel Precie, Troop D, 3rd Battalion, 73rd Calvary Regiment said even though he donated a gift, he received more back than he gave.
"It feels great to be a part of this," said Precie. "I feel really proud of the wings and that it is all about the kids. I bought a Jesse James motorcycle (to donate) but this (the German jump wings) was a present to me."
A few Soldiers were ready to go back up for a chance to earn more wings when rumors of extra parachutes being available floated around.
"It felt great, I just received my Irish jump wings, and heard that they may have extra chutes," said Spc. Raymond Gibson, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 82nd Airborne Division. "We were thinking about going back up to try and earn the German jump wings too."
(Lucille Anne Newman writes for the Paraglide newspaper at Fort Bragg, N.C.)