Operation Gratitude

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“My men and I still need every bit of your support.”

A guest post from deployed First Lietuenant John A., who is serving in the United States Marine Corps:

As American service members continue ten more years of commitment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, we cannot help but think:

We are not alone in this fight.

I signed up for duty for a few reasons. I believe in public service, self-sacrifice, and the challenge to do something profound. I found these ideals in the Marine Corps.

What amazes me most, however, is along my adventure I’ve met people and civilian organizations that share my same vision.

Thank you so much OPERATION GRATITUDE!

I first encountered Operation Gratitude on the fallow plains of southern Afghanistan after a long, back-breaking patrol. I returned to my patrol base to find my Marines bright-eyed and full of smiles; something was amiss from our drudging normalcy. 

For the first time in months, and the first time ever for a handful of my Marines, we received packages from another world—home.

My heart immediately melted from the kindness shown by the charity of Operation Gratitude. For the first time since departing home, my Marines changed their socks, ate an American  snack, read a supportive letter,
and laughed at a child’s innocent bravado, such as the letter (pictured, right) from the American boy named Austin who who wished us a happy New Year and wrote that he hoped we would “sevive the whore.”

Those care packages forever increased our morale, changed our outlook, and reset our resolve.

Words cannot express our gratitude as you continue to walk by our side while we continue this fight for ten more years. Thanks again, Operation Gratitude. My men and I still need every bit of your support.

Semper Fidelis.

Editor’s Note: Our country has commited to involvement in Afghanistan for the next ten years – Operation Gratitude’s commitment is to continue our mission as long as any American service member is deployed in a hostile region. Please stick with us…Will you please help us support these heroes? Every donation of $15 pays for our shipping and assembly costs to send another care package — consider making an online donation today: DONATE NOW)

Also — letters like young Austin’s are treasured by the troops who receive them. Writing letters is a way for everyone — young and old! — to be involved supporting our brave military: Write a Letter Today.

THANK YOU for your generous support!

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Adventures of a Warrior Who Never Quits…

If you’ve been following Operation Gratitude on this blog, or our Facebook or Twitter pages for more than a few months now, then you’ll remember reading about Sgt. Eric Rodriguez, a remarkable young man and combat wounded veteran who was the recipient of our 750,000th Care Package in December, 2011. 

Sgt. Rodriguez doesn’t slow down for much — most of us would have trouble keeping up with him! The Marine Corps recognizes his special abilities and recently named Eric to the 2012 All-Marine Warrior Games Team,  competing April 30-May 6 for the Chairman’s Cup against teams from the Army, Navy and Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations Command.

In between physical therapy for his injuries, training for competitions, and being an active and involved husband and father, Eric has found time to enjoy some of the gifts that were included in his special milestone Operation Gratitude Care Package. He has been the honored guest of the Los Angeles Lakers, Kings, UCLA, and the Dodgers, with more exciting adventures to come soon!

Please stay tuned for more updates but for now, enjoy these photos of a true American hero, USMC Sgt. Eric Rodriguez!

Note: Operation Gratitude sends care packages to Wounded Warriors recovering in Military hospitals and Warrior Transition Units. Learn more about this program and how you can support our efforts here: Wounded Warrior Program.

THANK YOU, Sgt. Eric Rodriguez, for your brave service to our country. You make us all so very proud!

THANK YOU to all our generous donors, volunteers and corporate sponsors whose support allows us to honor, thank and encourage service members like Sgt. Rodriguez.

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Charities Partner to Support First Responders

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Operation Gratitude and Team Rubicon
Announce Partnership Supporting First Responders

April 2, 2012/ Los Angeles, CA: Military support charity Operation Gratitude and veteran-focused disaster relief organization Team Rubicon today announced a strategic partnership to send “First Responder Kits” to volunteers assisting with natural disaster and crisis relief efforts world-wide.

The “First Responder Kits” (FR Kits) will be assembled at the Operation Gratitude Headquarters in Van Nuys, CA and shipped to every Team Rubicon volunteer across the country. Each FR Kit will contain an assortment of donated items such as batteries; a drawstring backpack; a towel; energy bars; a spork (a combination utensil/tool); heavy work gloves; head lamp; safety glasses; a write-in-the-rain notebook; pens; a Leatherman; a Nalgene water bottle; a Team Rubicon t-shirt and a Paracord “Survival” bracelet hand-made by Operation Gratitude supporters.

Most of the Team Rubicon volunteers are recent U.S. Military veterans. “We sent care packages and supported these heroic service members while they were deployed overseas in combat zones,” says Operation Gratitude founder, Carolyn Blashek. “Now that they are serving our country and the world by assisting with natural disasters and humanitarian relief, we will continue to express our deep appreciation and respect to them through our First Responder Kits.”

Team Rubicon co-founder William McNulty agrees that the partnership between the two organizations makes perfect sense: “Team Rubicon engages U.S. military veterans, many returning home after fighting ten years of war, and offers a renewed sense of purpose for their skills and experiences,” he said. “The FR Kits will provide our volunteers with essential gear as well as morale-boosting encouragement from fellow Americans who are grateful for their continued service.”

As with its other programs, Operation Gratitude will rely on the generosity of the American people — individuals and corporate sponsors — to supply, assemble and ship the initial 5,000 FR Kits by the end of June, 2012. The organization seeks both product donations to fill the FR Kits as well as financial donations to pay assembly and shipping costs of $75,000.

Item donations may be shipped to:

Operation Gratitude/California Army National Guard
17330 Victory Boulevard
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Attn: First Responder Program

Financial donations are welcome and may be made online:
https://www.operationgratitude.com/donate/

Or by check payable to Operation Gratitude and mailed to:

Operation Gratitude
16444 Refugio Road
Encino, CA 91436

In keeping with Operation Gratitude’s mission of providing “hands-on” opportunities to say “Thank You” to our nation’s heroes, the organization is encouraging supporters all over the country to make Paracord “Survival” Bracelets to include in each First Responder Kit, as well as in the care packages to deployed troops. More information and instructions can be found here: How to Make a Paracord Bracelet.

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Happy Anniversary, Operation Gratitude

On March 19, 2003, Operation Gratitude got its start in the living room of its founder, Carolyn Blashek. Four care packages were shipped that day. Nine years and more than 760,000 care packages later, we thought we would take a trip down Memory Lane to reminisce and appreciate all that has been accomplished thanks to the help, generosity and dedication of countless friends, donors and supporters…

Operation Gratitude quickly grew too large for the Blashek home. The charity moved to the California Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys, CA…

SSG Elizabeth Cowie was our “Armory Angel” who made it all possible for Operation Gratitude to use the armory facilities…Here she is (pictured, right) at the armory with her mother…

As more and more volunteers joined in, Operation Gratitude sent more and more care packages…

We would finish up at the assembly line and form a human conveyor belt to load up the trucks…

…then we’d take the care packages down to the post office…and unload them to be shipped…

…and start all over again!

While much has changed over the years — we’ve added the Battalion Buddy and Wounded Warrior and other programs – what has not and never will change is our commitment to deployed troops who have volunteered to serve our country. We will continue to honor, thank and support them with care packages lovingly-filled with goodies and treats from home.

…It is their amazing work and sacrifice that makes our work worthwhile.

Thank you to all our troops, past and present…and thank you to all who have helped Operation Gratitude over the years!

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Doing What We Can to Help our Heroes and Their Families

U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Jeffrey Alexander.

Many U.S. Military veterans and their families are facing extraordinary financial hardships during this time of worldwide economic upheavals. In late 2011 Businessweek reported that the job crisis is dire, citing for example that the youngest of veterans, aged 18 to 24, had a shocking 30.4 percent jobless rate in October, way up from 18.4 percent a year earlier.

Joblessness often leads to homelessness and our veterans are not immune from this frightening reality.

According to the Veterans Administration: “Current population estimates suggest that about 107,000 veterans (male and female) are homeless on any given night and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year. Many other veterans are considered near homeless or at risk because of their poverty, lack of support from family and friends, and dismal living conditions…”

While we can’t solve all the problems our veterans and their families might face, we want to offer support and encouragement where we are able. For the past several months, in cooperation with the leadership and chaplain corps of National Guard units nationwide, Operation Gratitude has assembled and distributed thousands of Military Family Care Packages (MFCPs) to Soldiers who cannot find civilian jobs and/or who are homeless, living in cars.

Additionally, MFCPs have been delivered to homeless veterans organizations and VA hospitals.

These care packages contain donated non-perishable food; personal hygiene products (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc.); household items (soaps, detergent, etc.); gift cards to stores like Target, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens; toys for children; clothing and more, valued at over $100 per package.

With generous assistance from our corporate sponsors and individual donors, we will continue to support deployed troops serving in combat zones and on Navy ships. We will also continue helping veterans and military families — with MFCPs, Battalion Buddy packages and Wounded Warrior packages — as long as there is a need.

Please consider joining our efforts to support these heroes who have selflessly given so much of themselves fighting for our country. Online financial donations may be made here: Donate Now.

For more specific information regarding the types of in-kind donations we accept for the MFCPs, please send an email inquiry to opgrat@gmail.com.

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Operation Gratitude Hand-Delivers 750,000th Package to Wounded Warrior

Van Nuys, CA – December 20, 2011 — As more than 2,000 volunteers, corporate sponsors and other special guests looked on in surprise this past Saturday,

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Operation Gratitude “Blue Shirt” Supervisors and 2000 Volunteers Send Greetings on December 17, 2011
founder Carolyn Blashek hand-delivered Operation Gratitude’s milestone 750,000th Care Package to its special recipient, a decorated combat veteran and wounded warrior, Sgt. Eric Rodriguez.

No one was more surprised than true American Hero Rodriguez.

As fate would have it, his was the 750,000th name on Operation Gratitude’s Master List started in March, 2003.

Rodriguez, 29, who grew up in Los Angeles and joined the U.S. Marine Corps at 17-years-old, straight out of high school, believed he was invited to the armory to speak about the morale-boosting impact care packages have on deployed troops. While that was true, there was an additional reason Operation Gratitude invited him — to honor this brave young man in person.

Before the surprise was revealed, Blashek introduced Rodriguez by briefly providing details about his life-changing injuries. While in Afghanistan on his eighth deployment in January 2011, he stepped on an improvised explosive device (“IED”) and was severely injured, ultimately losing his right leg and undergoing numerous surgeries to save his left leg.

“Today, less than a year later,” explained Blashek, “Sgt. Rodriguez is not just walking upright with a prosthetic, he skis, surfs, and competes in Wheelchair Basketball, football and rugby, and after one more surgery, plans

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USMC Sgt. Eric Rodriguez

to stay in the Marine Corps, return to Afghanistan with his Scout Sniper platoon and ‘finish up business.'”

Joining the “Milestone” celebration were friends and sponsors of Operation Gratitude who presented their 750,000th Celebration Gifts to Rodriguez, his wife, Tania, and their daughter Camila.

Among the gifts included in the Care Package were:
1. Two separate, all-expense paid trips to New York — one to the Buffalo Bills training camp and another to a taping of the Rachel Ray show;
2. Tickets to, and special hospitality at, Los Angeles Lakers, Kings and Dodgers games
3. Tickets to the 2012 Rose Bowl game, courtesy of UCLA;
4. Tickets to Universal Studios;
5. Four 3-Day Park Hopper Passes to Disneyland Resort, including a 3-night stay at the Disneyland Hotel;

6. A one-year supply of Emergen-C;

7. A painting of golf Masters: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods; and an autographed poster of Wayne Gretzky courtesy of Upper Deck;

8. A handmade quilt and scarf;

9. A giant stuffed animal “Chum” Battalion Buddy courtesy of Kelly Toys for Camila; and

10. From actress, model and entrepreneur Kathy Ireland: A Hawaiian Dream Vacation, plus a selection of jewelry and home furnishings from Kathy Ireland Worldwide partners.

Last but not least, Blashek announced a gift from Target made in honor of Rodriguez and wounded comrades — a $15,000 donation to Operation Gratitude, a $100 gift card to Sgt. Rodriguez plus 349 additional $100 gift cards for other Wounded Warriors.

For full details on all the 750,000th Care Package Gifts and donors, please visit the Operation Gratitude blog: Celebration!

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Matt Rogers and Bryon Bos sing the National Anthem.

 

The Celebration Ceremony began with the National Anthem performed by music duo Rogers & Bos — Matt Rogers and Bryon Bos — who also closed the event with a performance of “Coming Home,” the theme song to Lifetime Television’s popular show of the same name. Rogers, an American Idol finalist, is the host of “Coming Home,” and Bos composed the song, which brought tears to the eyes of many a volunteer in the crowd.

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Commander Jerry King and Sgt. Eric Rodriguez.

Operation Gratitude volunteers were honored to work and celebrate alongside Sgt. Rodriguez, as well as many other special guests: Commander Jerry King, the 89-year-old leader of the local Jewish War Veterans post who presented Rodriguez with a 50th Anniversary World War II medal, Actors Sean Astin, Kevin Dobson and Erik Estrada, Actor/Comedian Tom Connolly, plus Los Angeles-area politicians (Assemblyman Blumenfield, Controller Greuel, Councilman Zine), members of the Motorcycle community, and dozens of school, church, scout and civic organizations.

Significant check presentations were made by Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run ($61,000); Cinnabon, Inc. ($50,000); Los Angeles Association of Health Underwriters ($12,000); Ride to the Flags/White Heart Foundation ($8,000), and Alacer Corp., the makers of Emergen-C ($5,000).

Blashek, who started the organization in 2003, provided staggering statistics about what the 750,000th package represented:
~ 6 Million pounds of product

~ $7.5 Million of postage
~ 37.5 Million individual items
~ $75 Million worth of product
sent to the troops through Operation Gratitude since its inception.

The Salvation Army of Southern California kept volunteers supplied with morning coffee and bottled water. During the lunch hour, volunteers were treated to a delicious meal generously provided by Al’s Chicken and the Rotary Clubs of Lancaster, Granada Hills and Northridge/Chatsworth. Corporate Sponsor Alacer distributed samples of its Emergen-C products, more than two million packets of which have been included in Operation Gratitude packages since 2004.

With the delivery of its 750,000th package, Operation Gratitude formally ended its 2011 Holiday Drive, having assembled 150,000 care packages for U.S. Service Members, Wounded Warriors and Military Children this year. Blashek reminds supporters, however, that with 200,000 service members away from home and in harm’s way, their work continues, as does the need to raise funds to pay assembly and shipping costs — approximately $15 per care package.

 

“Between requests from units deployed to Afghanistan and ships at sea, the need to fulfill those requests continues,” she says. “Plus, the Battalion Buddy and Wounded Warrior programs are on-going, year round, with new requests coming in every week.”

Tax deductible financial donations to pay the $15 per package cost to assemble and ship the packages are still accepted online or by check addressed and mailed to:

Operation Gratitude
16444 Refugio Road
Encino, CA 91436

Online credit card donations (tax-deductible) can be made here: DONATE NOW. Please consider a “Recurring Donation” to help us send care packages every month.

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