By Staff Sgt. Sharilyn WellsDecember 13, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, Dec.13, 2010) -- Rain, sleet and freezing morning temperatures didn't scare away U.S. and allied paratroopers from donating toys and earning foreign jump wings during the 13th annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop at Fort Bragg, N.C., Dec. 10 and 11.
"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," said Maj. Gen. David Blackledge, commanding general of U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) at the Sicily drop zone Saturday.
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 nine foreign nations -- Botswana, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Poland and Thailand -- are among the participants.
The annual event kicked off Friday with toy collection and sustained airborne training. 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.
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 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.
"That was the easy part," she said.
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," Hipenbecker added.
The operation continues through Dec. 17 and will, weather permitting, result in nearly 4,000 airborne jumps.
More than 5,600 toys had been collected as of Dec. 11, and toys will continue to be accepted over the following week, allowing children around the surrounding Fort Bragg community to enjoy the holidays this season.
To learn more about this unique operation, visit www.optoydrop.net.
(Staff Sgt. Sharilyn Wells writes for U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) Public Affairs.)