Tag Archives: Christmas

Operation Toy Drop continued in NCO’s honor after his death

By STAFF SGT. SHARILYN WELLS
and STAFF SGT. FELIX R. FIMBRES
U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command

The first Operation Toy Drop, organized in 1998 by Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler, collected 550 toys for local children in need. This year, more than 4,300 paratroopers participated and donated more than 6,000 toys. The operation, run by the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne,) has become the largest joint airborne operation in the Army.

U.S. Army paratroopers descend on Sicily Drop Zone from a C-130 aircraft during an airborne operation for the 18th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop, hosted by U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), at Fort Bragg, N.C., Dec. 4, 2015. Operation Toy Drop is the world’s largest combined airborne operation and collective training with seven partner-nation paratroopers participating and allows Soldiers the opportunity to help children in need receive toys for the holidays. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Lisa Velazco/Released)
U.S. Army paratroopers descend on Sicily Drop Zone from a C-130 aircraft during an airborne operation for the 18th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop, hosted by U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), at Fort Bragg, N.C., Dec. 4, 2015. Operation Toy Drop is the world’s largest combined airborne operation and collective training with seven partner-nation paratroopers participating and allows Soldiers the opportunity to help children in need receive toys for the holidays. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Lisa Velazco/Released)

Contrary to what the name implies, paratroopers do not actually jump with the toys. Soldiers donate new, unwrapped toys for children in need, then are entered into a lottery. Those chosen are awarded the opportunity to earn foreign jump wings from allied jump masters who have traveled to Fort Bragg from around the world.

Operation Toy Drop combines the efforts of Army, Air Force and civilian service organizations in a truly unique event. Since its first year, the operation has expanded to include aircraft support from Pope Air Force Base’s 43rd Airlift Wing and welcomed the participation of Soldiers from Fort Bragg’s XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and Special Operations Command.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Harris Luther, Prime Knight manager for Pope Field at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  “You got the Army guys who don’t get to get foreign jump wings very often, jump with foreign jumpmasters and oh, by the way, help kids by donating a toy. Then the aircrews, when they come in, get (the opportunity) to land in the dirt and fly certain routes, all the while getting guys out the door — which is all training. There’s no losing process here at all, none.”

Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler is the founder Operation Toy Drop, an event in which paratroopers donate a toy to help children around the Fort Bragg community. (U.S. Army illustration by Sgt. Felix Fimbres)
Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler is the founder Operation Toy Drop, an event in which paratroopers donate a toy to help children around the Fort Bragg community. (U.S. Army illustration by Sgt. Felix Fimbres)

Who was Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler?

Oler, a Tennessee native, joined the Army in 1979 as an infantryman. He spent time in Ranger and Special Forces battalions throughout his career, and deployed in support of operations Desert Storm, Provide Comfort and Joint Endeavor. In 1995, he joined U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) to become a civil affairs specialist.

“He loved to drink his Mountain Dew and had to have his cigarette with it. You had to get to know him, and when you got to know him — once you learned to know him — you loved him,” said Luther, who met Oler while coaching youth sports.  “(He was) just a true American and a very caring person. He truly cared about people. You just can’t say enough good things about him.”

Oler’s close friends describe him as a man’s man, a true American; a gentle giant who loved kids.  When he approached four of his close friends with a crazy idea that involved an airborne operation, foreign jumpmasters, toys, children, and lots of fun, they all jumped on board.

The first toy drop in 1998 was small – only a few hundred jumpers exited the aircraft and a matching amount of toys were collected.  But Oler had planted the seed, and over the years, his operation grew.

“I thought that the idea, the concept that he (Oler) came up with, was an awesome idea,” said Willie Wellbrook, loadmaster and retired Air Force master sergeant. “Not only for the fact that the jumpers get something out of it but also the big thing was the kids – it’s all about the kids. And I was more than happy to jump on that bandwagon.”

By April of 2004, Oler had been promoted to Sgt. 1st Class and was finishing up an assignment at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.  With relocation orders in hand, Oler warned his friends that he might not be there to fulfill his duties for the operation, but he would do as much as he could.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Abraham Rodriguez, assigned to the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, retrieves his parachute during an airborne operation for the 18th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop at Sicily Drop Zone, Ft. Bragg, N.C., Dec. 4, 2015. Hosted by U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), Operation Toy Drop is the world’s largest combined airborne operation with seven partner-nation paratroopers participating and allows Soldiers the opportunity to help children in need everywhere receive toys for the holidays. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Manne/Released)
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Abraham Rodriguez, assigned to the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, retrieves his parachute during an airborne operation for the 18th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop at Sicily Drop Zone, Ft. Bragg, N.C., Dec. 4, 2015. Hosted by U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), Operation Toy Drop is the world’s largest combined airborne operation with seven partner-nation paratroopers participating and allows Soldiers the opportunity to help children in need everywhere receive toys for the holidays. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Manne/Released)

That same month, he suffered a heart attack while performing jumpmaster duties aboard a C-130 aircraft.  At 43 years old, Oler was pronounced dead at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg. After Oler’s death, the operation was dedicated to him in his memory.

“Losing Randy was real hard, because I was here the night Randy passed away on the aircraft,” explained Wellbrook. “I got the call that we had an in-flight emergency. I just didn’t realize at the time who it was – until the next day. Losing Randy was tough, because Randy was the heart and soul of this operation.”

Close friends couldn’t see continuing Operation Toy Drop without Oler; that year’s event was in jeopardy. Oler had been able to do all the coordinating in his head and didn’t write anything down. But by August, Oler’s friends decided he would have wanted them to continue to help children around the community.

“The next couple of years were pretty rough,” said Scott Murray, Oler’s friend and a former Soldier in the XVIII Airborne Corps. “We just didn’t have the heart.”

Wellbrook agreed.

“I don’t think you’ll ever meet another person like Randy,” Wellbrook said. “Randy left a legacy. … It’s blown into a huge operation, and I think Toy Drop will be here as long as kids are in need.”

Members of the U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Black Knights, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Team, The Black Daggers and Dutch Jumpmasters conduct a military free fall airborne operation from a C-27 during Operation Toy Drop at Camp Mackall, N.C., Dec. 10, 2015. Hosted by U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), Operation Toy Drop is the world’s largest combined airborne operation with seven partner-nation paratroopers participating and allows Soldiers the opportunity to help children in need everywhere receive toys for the holidays.  (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Manne/Released)
Members of the U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Black Knights, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Team, The Black Daggers and Dutch Jumpmasters conduct a military free fall airborne operation from a C-27 during Operation Toy Drop at Camp Mackall, N.C., Dec. 10, 2015. Hosted by U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), Operation Toy Drop is the world’s largest combined airborne operation with seven partner-nation paratroopers participating and allows Soldiers the opportunity to help children in need everywhere receive toys for the holidays. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Manne/Released)

 

U.S. service members deployed overseas, keeping citizens safe during holidays

By JIM GARAMONE
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON — For many American service members, the holidays are just another work day.

In a news conference last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey reminded Americans that their military is deployed worldwide, performing missions that keep their fellow citizens safe.

In his last news conference of 2013, Dempsey pointed out that, in addition to service members in combat zones, about 250,000 men and women in uniform are deployed overseas during this holiday period.

“I wish their families a peaceful and calm and happy holiday season, as their loved ones are forward-deployed all over the world, doing what the nation asks them to do,” Dempsey said.

And where are they based this holiday season?

A U.S. soldier prepares to deliver air bundles containing care packages, Christmas stockings and mail to Soldiers stationed at a remote base in eastern Afghanistan, Dec. 24. The Soldier is assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Thomas Cieslak)
A U.S. soldier prepares to deliver air bundles containing care packages, Christmas stockings and mail to Soldiers stationed at a remote base in eastern Afghanistan, Dec. 24. The Soldier is assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Thomas Cieslak)

There are roughly 39,500 U.S. service members in Afghanistan, down from 66,000 at the beginning of 2013. The mission in Afghanistan has changed this past year, with Afghan security forces taking the lead throughout the country. American, NATO and partner forces are training and mentoring Afghan units. They are also providing logistics and air support, maintenance and intelligence assets. This does not mean the job is safe. The International Security Assistance Force announced a service member in Regional Command-East was killed over the weekend.

In South Sudan, 45 Americans are deployed to provide security for the embassy in the capital city of Juba.

There are about 28,000 American service members in South Korea standing watch on the demilitarized zone — often called the last Cold War frontier. Another 39,000 Americans are based in Japan, providing security for that critical ally.

There are roughly 43,000 Americans in Germany, 11,000 in Great Britain, 11,000 in Italy and 1,000 in Belgium. The number of American service members in Europe has dropped significantly from the mid-1980s, when 350,000 U.S. troops were based in West Germany alone.

Thousands of sailors and Marines are afloat this holiday season, patrolling the sea lanes to ensure they are open and safe. They represent the U.S. commitment to global security.

In Africa, about 2,500 Americans are based in Djibouti, while others are performing training missions in other nations of the world’s second largest continent.

In the U.S. Southern Command area of operations, about 5,500 U.S. service members are working with allies and partners throughout Central and South America.

But it is not just those service members deployed overseas who work on the holiday. Thousands of airmen will man the consoles in the missile fields of the American West. Others will watch the skies for threats, while still others will be ready to respond to these threats.

Thousands of service members will care for brothers and sisters who are wounded or sick this holiday season. Others will provide services for the families of those deployed.

And wherever there are military personnel, there are DOD civilians and civilian contractors working right alongside them. Thousands of civilians will spend their holidays manning their duty stations to provide needed support for America’s best.