Tag Archives: Operation Toy Drop

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)

 

Paratroopers from across the globe prepare for a holiday tradition

FORT BRAGG, N.C. – “It’s a good way to say, ‘Thank you,’” said Sgt. Maj. Ronny  Hahnlein, German Army liaison to the XVIII Airborne Corps. “It’s maybe a little  thing to give back, but I think this is what a friendship is.”

This past  week, German jumpmasters as well as jumpmasters from eight other countries have  been training together with their U.S. Army counterparts in preparation of the  16th Annual Randy Oler Operation Toy Drop.

U.S. Army and allied foreign paratroopers from nine different countries participated in the training as part of a week-long series of events held prior to the scheduled 16th Annual Randy Oler Operation Toy Drop on Dec. 7 on Sicily Drop Zone. Hosted by the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), Operation Toy Drop is the world's largest combined airborne operation where Fort Bragg's paratroopers and allied jumpmasters donate toys to be distributed to children's homes and social service agencies in the local community.  (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Sharilyn Wells/USACAPOC(A) PAO)
U.S. Army and allied foreign paratroopers from nine different countries participated in the training as part of a week-long series of events held prior to the scheduled 16th Annual Randy Oler Operation Toy Drop on Dec. 7 at Sicily Drop Zone. Hosted by the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), Operation Toy Drop is the world’s largest combined airborne operation where Fort Bragg’s paratroopers and allied jumpmasters donate toys to be distributed to children’s homes and social service agencies in the local community.
(U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Sharilyn Wells/USACAPOC(A) PAO)

Operation Toy Drop is the  world’s largest combined airborne operation that allows paratroopers to conduct  safe, valuable training and also raise toys for underprivileged children around  the local community; something the founder of the event, Sgt. 1st Class Randy  Oler, a former U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command  (Airborne) soldier, envisioned in 1998 when the first event raised more than 500  toys.

Hahnlein said that Operation Toy Drop is not only a humanitarian  mission, but also a great way for German jumpmasters and aircrews to work with  U.S. Army soldiers.

“With operations downsizings in Afghanistan, this  relationship between our armies is even more important,” Hahnlein said.

Relationships between allied jumpmasters and the U.S. have been growing  constantly as they train diligently on how to use U.S. parachute rigs, the  different types of aircraft used and the procedures that occur in each aircraft  to ensure a safe airborne operation.

Allied jumpmasters were introduced  to the U.S. parachutes, such as the MC6, by trying the equipment on to ensure  proper fit as well as using a simulator to land the parachute. Paratroopers have  to successfully jump and land three times during the simulation in order to be  given approval to use the parachute.

This year’s Operation Toy Drop will  be held on Sicily Drop Zone at Fort Bragg, N.C., Dec. 7 starting at 7:30 a.m.  and running through the afternoon. In addition to the Saturday jump,  paratroopers plan to participate Dec. 9-13 in Luzon Drop Zone. In total,  4,500 paratroopers are expected to jump with the support of jumpmasters from  Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Canada, Poland, Sweden, Chili, Brazil and  Latvia.

“It’s like we are bringing all of NATO together,” said Sgt. 1st  Class Michael Griffin, special operations testing director.