Sergeants Jayson Rodriguez, Chole Wells and Karlos Contreras sat in silence after the last lottery number was called for Operation Toy Drop. The crowd was already dispersing with paratroopers grabbing their gear and heading back to their units. The three sergeants from Company C, 407th Brigade Support Battalion looked at each other and smiled.
“At least someone is going to get a toy out of this great cause,” Rodriguez said. “The foreign jump wings are nice, but I don’t need them. This is a great cause and just seeing what was donated … it’s amazing.”
Wells and Contreras couldn’t agree more. The 15th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop raised nearly 2,500 toys on Dec. 7 alone, not including the hundreds of toys the event will raise during this week’s airborne operations.
Operation Toy Drop gives the military community the opportunity to help Families in need over the holidays and offers Soldiers a holiday treat of their own. Paratroopers who donate a new, unwrapped toy are entered into a lottery for the opportunity to participate in an airborne operation supervised by a foreign jumpmaster from one of seven countries.
This year, Toy Drop veteran participants Chile, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada were joined by Uruguay, Brazil and Italy.
In 1998, the inaugural year for Operation Toy Drop, 550 toys were donated for children in need. Its founder, then Staff Sgt. Randy Oler, had dreamed of an event that combined airborne operations, foreign military jumpmasters and local charities. When Oler passed away in 2004, Operation Toy Drop inherited his name and his spirit still echoes through the thousands of paratroopers who lined up in the early hours of the morning with toys in hand. Paratroopers and community members can continue to donate toys through this week.
Even though the doors didn’t open until 8 a.m. and his slot wasn’t guaranteed, Pfc. Malcolm Andrews, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 307th Brigade Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, showed up at Green Ramp at 1:30 a.m.
“As I was preparing to go to sleep at (midnight) and laying out my uniform, something just kept pulling on me and God was like, ‘Just go now and look out there.’ So, I came out and didn’t go to sleep so I wouldn’t lose my spot,” smiled Andrews. “To me, (Operation Toy Drop) is a big deal because there’s just so many people giving, whether it’s for the foreign jump wings or not. It’s still the simple fact that they gave something whether they were going to get something in return or not. It may just be a small, simple thing on their uniform, but it’s something much bigger for that child receiving that donated toy.”
Andrews was chosen as the first jumper to start the airborne operation the next day.
Capt. David Saxton, 2nd Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment, donated an Xbox 360 because he said he could relate to the Families receiving the toys.
“Growing up, I didn’t have much. The Army has enabled me to not only go to college, but to become a paratrooper and serve my country. As much as we give back to the U.S., day in and day out with our job, we can still do more for the community, especially the children,” explained Saxton.
“To me, that child who is getting that gift could be a future paratrooper who’s going to be serving their country and if they’re happy, that brings a smile to my face.”
Even though the weather Dec. 8 on Sicily Drop Zone pushed the initial jump time back four hours, paratroopers smiled as they marched in formation with shiny, new wings on their chest.
“I think this is an amazing opportunity to just give back to the community,” said Spc. Melissa Parrish, 49th, Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, who earned Uruguayan jump wings on her first jump after completing airborne school, just three weeks ago.
“There are a lot of Families out there in need, especially with the way the economy is right now. So, every little bit helps and we brought out thousands and thousands of toys yesterday. It really is awesome.”