Monday, February 08, 2016

Last year, 2015, marked the 18th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop that began in 1998 with Staff Sgt. Randy Oler.

Oler, who was assigned to U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C., joined with his friends in the Special Operations community to start the first Operation Toy Drop.

"Operation Toy Drop is a multifaceted training exercise, which also has an important community relations aspect to it," said Maj. Andre A. Battiste, G-1, officer in charge, for Operation Toy Drop.

Adding, "In essence we are continuing the training opportunities for our airborne elements as well as those tenant organizations that support Fort Bragg."

Paratroopers can donate toys in hopes of receiving a winning lottery ticket for the opportunity to train with service members from allied nations and earn partner-nation jump wings.

Pfc. Sharayne J. Stanford handed out registration forms and tickets during the lottery. Stanford is a logistics specialist with the 1006th Quartermaster Company, a reserve unit in Knightdale, N.C.

"The event benefits everyone coming together for something that benefits children," said Stanford.

"I think it’s really good for the Fort Bragg community itself, especially with the toys for all the children. They will get a big Christmas hopefully," said Spc. Jacob Vaughn, a paratrooper with the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery 1-319th Field Artillery Regiment.

Vaughn, originally from Munfordville, Ky., participated in the lottery four times and had not won a chance to jump with any allied nation, but, he continued to donate a toy each year.

This year he donated a "Star Wars" lightsaber. He said he enjoyed how friendly all the paratroopers were during the lottery and how everyone congratulated those who had a winning ticket.

"Everyone sits back and has a lot of laughs while they call out the tickets," said Vaughn. "It brings everyone together."

Some paratroopers even gave their tickets to other soldiers to up that individual’s chance of earning a slot to jump.

Soldiers who did not win a slot in the lottery showed up on Jump Day to support their friends.

Lottery Day and Jump Day had more than just paratroopers in attendance. Other service members, family members and civilians from the local community came out in support of Operation Toy Drop.

"The type of people that come out are people who see the benefit of taking care of the community and who love what we do as paratroopers," said Battiste.

Adding, "We got a number of different agencies here that have service members’ best interest in mind, so a lot of them are propelled to participate with this event anyway possible."

One of those agencies, the USO, was in attendance handing out snacks and hot cocoa to paratroopers.

Karen Long, a volunteer with the USO who served in the Air Force, took off work to volunteer at the Operation Toy Drop lottery

"This is so much fun," said Long. "It is a wonderful event that gets soldiers engaged and benefits the children of the community. It’s a win-win."

This was Long’s first time volunteering with Operation Toy Drop. She was surprised to find out that many paratroopers arrived in the early morning hours and some arrived the day before.

"It’s impressive," said Long. "They truly care about the community."

Operation Toy Drop is a holiday season event that not only brings paratroopers of different nations together, but also the Fort Bragg community by helping underpriveleged children and their families.

Service members, family members and residents from surrounding towns give back by donating toys to benefit local charities.

The various events during Operation Toy Drop build unit cohesion, strengthen bonds with foreign nations and bring the entire community together for a great cause during the holiday season.

Sgt. Nicole Paese, 361st Press Camp Headquarters, U.S. Army Reserve, Flushing/Queens, N.Y.