By Staff Sgt. Sharilyn WellsDecember 12, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C -- Over 5,000 toys were donated Dec. 10-11, by Soldiers stationed throughout Fort Bragg, N.C. The toys will be distributed throughout the region over the coming weeks to families and children in need of a little assistance this holiday season.
"We're having a great airborne day today, and paratroopers just love jumping," said Maj. Gen. David Blackledge, commanding general of U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) from Sicily drop zone Saturday. "This is a great opportunity for us to give back to the communities that have supported us so well through all the deployments the last ten years."
Rain and sleet in the freezing morning temperatures didn't scare away U.S. and allied nation paratroopers from donating toys and earning foreign airborne wings during the 13th annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop. The annual event got underway Friday with toy collection and sustained airborne training, and the first 1,300 paratroopers jumped onto Sicily drop zone, where large crowds gathered despite the near freezing temperatures.
By mid-day, rain and at times sleet blanketed the area, forcing planners to reschedule the day's remaining jumps to next week. The operation continues through Dec. 17, and will, weather permitting, result in nearly 4,000 paratroopers jumping for a good cause.
Operation Toy Drop is the world's largest combined airborne operation. The event is planned and hosted by the Army Reserve's U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne). Pope Air Force Base's 43rd and 440th Airlift Wings provide a majority of the airplanes for the operation. Soldiers from Fort Bragg's XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and U.S. Army Special Operations Command donated the majority of the toys raised in the event.
"It was exciting," said Staff Sgt. Christina Hipenbecker, USACAPOC(A) Headquarters and Headquarters Company training Noncommissioned Officer and the primary jumpmaster for this year's Operation Toy Drop. She was the first paratrooper out of the plane at the start of the event.
"(Jumping) was the easy part," she continued. Hipenbecker was responsible for all the paratroopers, jumpmasters, and drop zone operations.
"This all started with one E-7 who decided he wanted to make a difference, and now thousands of children will have a happy Christmas."
The operation gives the military community the opportunity to help families in need over the holiday season. Paratroopers bring an unwrapped toy to donate in exchange for an opportunity to earn foreign jump wings from allied soldiers around the world.
Jumpmasters from Botswana, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Poland and Thailand participated in the day's airborne operations.
Over 5,000 toys have been collected as of Dec. 11, and toys will continue to come in over the following week, allowing children around the surrounding Fort Bragg community to enjoy their holidays this season.