Paratroopers from Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment started purchasing toys for donation for this year’s 15th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop, hosted by U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne).
Operation Toy Drop gives Soldiers an opportunity to donate a gift to underprivileged children in local areas for the holidays in return for an opportunity to train and jump with a foreign jumpmaster.
“I send Soldiers to do it because it’s kind of a reward,” said Capt. Jason T. Walsh, the 5-73rd HHT commander. “The guys do well and I think they should have an opportunity to get foreign jump wings.”
Having foreign jump wings is a connecting factor that brings Soldiers together no matter where they are from.
“Soldiers with foreign wings can look at each other and feel a sense of camaraderie knowing they both have something unique,” said Walsh.
“To combine such a reward with something even more rewarding, is great for our Soldiers.
“We get to give toys to little kids who deserve toys at Christmas and some of these children might even be Soldiers’ kids,” he added.
Although this is an individual and voluntary effort, some units strongly encourage all their Soldiers to take part in Operation Toy Drop and use “hard slots” as way to stimulate Soldiers’ participation.
If a Soldier is not hard slotted, then they can participate in a lottery on Dec 7, where 500 slots are up for grabs.
One platoon sergeant has decided to give in more than one way each year.
“Usually, I give my ticket to somebody else who doesn’t have foreign wings,” said Sgt. 1st Class Clark Hitchcock, a medical platoon sergeant for HHT, 5-73 Cav. Hitchcock currently holds three foreign jump wings from Chile, Thailand and Germany, which took over nine years to accumulate.
Operation Toy Drop inspires people to give and come together in helping needy Families during the holiday season. This airborne operation has quite an impact on Soldiers and their morale throughout the post.
“It gives them something tangible they can walk away with,” said Hitchcock. “It makes their experience here at Fort Bragg a unique one, being able to donate a toy and jump with foreign jumpmasters. One thing I like about it is you hear the stories and come back to the platoon and you see different guys comparing their different wings. They go to a ball and that’s something different they have on their chest,” said Hitchcock with a big smile. “That’s the nice thing about it.”
Aside from the excitement over the possibility of receiving foreign jump wings, these paratroopers delight in picking out the toys they are going to donate. The children inspire some people to select a special toy for donation.
“Last year I donated a bicycle, and before that it was a baseball glove and ball and another time it was a toy train set,” said Hitchcock.
He said his method for picking a toy is to go to the toy store and ask the first kid he sees what he would like for Christmas and bases his decision for his purchase on this.
Other Soldiers reflect on their personal lives to influence what kind of toy they choose for Toy Drop.
Spc. Ethan Quebodeaux, a medic with the 5th Sqdn., 73rd Cav., decided to buy modeling clay to donate because of his childhood experience with Christmas.
“I grew up in South Louisiana,” said Quebodeaux. “So we do a lot of evacuations because of hurricanes. I’ve evacuated so many times and there are shelters you can go to where little kids will get toys. I always remember every year getting PlayDoh – always fresh and soft and never dried out. So every time I have to get something for a child, I get PlayDoh.”
Quebodeaux said he also likes the PlayDoh option, because it is appropriate for children of either sex. This is important to keep in mind, because sometimes there can be too high of an influx of boys or girls toys.
From the first Toy Drop where a couple hundred donations were collected, to last year’s total of over 20,000, Fort Bragg Soldiers continue with the tradition which was started by Randy Oler 15 years ago. For Oler it was all about the children and it stays the same for today’s Soldiers.