FORT POLK, La. -- The sun was shining and the skies clear Dec. 2 as two C-130s from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas left Self Airfield on North Fort, lifted to 1,500 feet and began their racetrack pattern around Geronimo drop zone. Aboard the aircraft were 245 Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group Soldiers who "traded" presents for parachutes and "jumped" at the chance to help their local community.

Each Soldier participating in the jump was asked to bring a toy to help benefit the Beauregard Community Action Association's Angel Tree. BCA is a non-profit organization in DeRidder that helps low-income families throughout the year. Its Christmas program, the Angel Tree, provides gifts to the children of those families during the holiday season.

According to Winkie Branch, executive director of Beauregard Community Action Program, getting Fort Polk involved has been a great contribution to this year's program. "The military joining the program has been the most amazing thing that has ever happened to us," she said.
Families and friends of the Soldiers gathered at the drop zone to support the jump - and its cause. Branch was also on hand during the jump to support the Soldiers. "When they donate a toy, they don't just buy a gift. They buy Christmas," Branch said.

On the aircraft's second pass, Soldiers jumped into the morning sunlight. One by one, their parachutes opened as the crowd watched them sail through the skies over Geronimo drop zone. The opportunity to jump was exciting, but the crowd on hand understood that the day's jump was about more than parachutes.

"It was nice giving gifts for the cause, especially during the holidays," said Darlena Brown, who was there to support her husband, Lt. Col. Cale Brown, and the other Soldiers.

All 245 Soldiers completed their jump and gathered at a designated rallying point, where they turned in their equipment. Following that, the Soldiers visited with one another and the Families who had gathered to show their support.

"When you can tie in a jump on a beautiful day and give back to those less fortunate, it's a good day," said Lt. Col. Rob Griggs, a trainer/mentor in Ops Grp.

For Griggs, the day was especially important since he also had the opportunity to pin on the rank of lieutenant colonel in the presence of his Family and colleagues. His wife, Jerah, and children were in attendance for the jump and promotion ceremony. "We want the Soldiers to know we are supporting them. know we are supporting them. An event like this brings even more people together and lets us give back to the community," said Jerah.

The toy jump was also significant since it was the last time Polk Soldiers would be jumping with the T-1 parachute. That parachute model has been phased out and will be replaced by the MC6 model once all Soldiers have been trained on it, explained Keith Morrow, the installation G-3 air officer.

Before donning the T-1 parachute for the last time, Soldiers had to trade a toy to receive their parachute. The toys were held at the consolidated airborne training site until they were delivered to the toy run in DeRidder Dec. 4.

Sgt. 1st Class William Stalnaker, an Ops Group G-3 training air officer, was astounded at the giving nature of his Soldiers.

"The Soldiers exceeded our expectations of giving to the community. We only asked that they bring one toy, but many of them brought more than that."

Stalnaker had earlier told the Soldiers that the program was in need of more toys for boys. "Of course with our bunch of G.I. Joes out here, we were able to buff up on boy toys," he joked.

The toys were delivered to the DeRidder toy run site by Stalnaker and Staff Sgt. Jorge Alvaros, another Ops Group G-3 training air officer. This was the first year Fort Polk participated in the program, but Ops Group intends to make it a tradition.

"We hope this will spur a continued relationship with the Angel Tree program," said Stalnaker.
For Branch and the other members of Beauregard Community Action Program, watching the Soldiers willingly give during this time of year was significant and helpful to those in need this holiday season.

"When you've got the military behind you, what more could you ask for'" said Branch.