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Mission Accomplished: One Millionth Care Package Delivered!

CarePkgIn a successful secret mission, Operation Gratitude founder, Carolyn Blashek, accompanied by Board Members Marty Martin and Sue Pollard, both “Navy Moms,” traveled last week from Los Angeles to Istanbul to Bahrain to connect with the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman to deliver the One Millionth Care Package to a Sailor deployed on the cruiser USS Gettysburg in the Gulf of Oman.

That Sailor was Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SW) Brooke Oekerman, and as part of the surprise, Blashek handed Oekerman the symbolic keys to a 2014 Ford F-150 pickup truck donated by5-Hour Energy®. Oekerman will receive the truck along with a Home Entertainment System donated by Best Buy and a poster signed by Tiger Woods, when she returns from her deployment in 2014.

Brooke

“This was truly unexpected! I’m honored to be the one-millionth person to receive a care package from Operation Gratitude,” said Oekerman. “I know so many Sailors are deserving of this honor and these amazing gifts. It’s a pretty selfless act on {Operation Gratitude’s} part to send care packages to people they don’t even know and ask for nothing in return.”

Blashek, Martin and Pollard distributed 360 care packages and gave hugs to every sailor on board USS Getttysburg before helicoptering back to USS Truman to deliver the One Millionth and One package to a sailor on board the carrier, OSSA Kody Oldham.

“I was speechless and overwhelmed at how generous people can be,” said Oldham as he studied all the items included in the Best Buy Home Entertainment System that he also received. “Being on deployment makes it easy to forget how much people care about us back home. It’s truly incredible how far people will go to show their support,” said Oldham. (See photos of the Millionth and One Package Presentation here.)

NBC Nightly News and The TODAY Show covered the story as reported by Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski as one of their ongoing “Making a Difference” segments: Care Packages Brighten Sailors’ Spirits

“We are deeply honored for this opportunity to personally deliver all these packages on board two magnificent U.S. Navy ships,” said Blashek. “While Brooke and Kody are both very deserving of the special gifts, we give we give the two milestone packages to them as representatives of all the outstanding service members in the U.S. Military–the greatest force for good in the world.”

Marty Martin was moved by the response from the Sailors. “The Gettysburg family was thrilled for their comrade Brooke and cheered wildly as she read the letter informing that she would receive the F-150 upon her return home,” she said.

While on USS Gettysburg, Sue Pollard handed a third special package to Chief Gunner’s SueMate (SW) Jack Daniels, whose youngest child is named Charlie. The package contained t-shirts, hats and other fun items from the Tennessee whiskey distiller Jack Daniels plus a bobble-head doll and signed photographs from the legendary country and southern rock musician, Charlie Daniels. In presenting the package, Pollard, a Gold Star Mom, related that Gold Star Mothers enjoy a drink or two of Jack Daniels when they get together. The distiller Jack Daniels and the musician, Charlie Daniels, have been generous supporters of Operation Gratitude.

Harry S. Truman, flagship for the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, and Gettysburg are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, supporting theater security cooperation efforts and supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

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The Celebration!

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It’s official!
We celebrated our historic One Millionth Care Package on Saturday, December 7, when it rolled off the assembly line to the cheers of thousands of volunteers, supporters, Military Brass, Elected Officials and Hollywood Celebrities. Adding to the excitement was the reveal of the special gift for the recipient of the milestone package: A Ford F-150 Pickup Truck donated by 5-hour ENERGY®.

M2M 016Under a large tent adjacent to the California Army National Guard Armory, Event Emcees Fritz Coleman, Andy Chanley and Joe Garner welcomed active duty Service Members and Military Veterans throughout the day. Many of these men and women were past recipients of Operation Gratitude care packages, and wore specially designed pins saying “I Serve” or “I Served.”  Three previous Operation Gratitude Milestone Package recipients were in attendance: Sgt. Shaun Gallagher (300,000th package); Sgt. Eric Rodriguez (750,000th package) and Sgt. Samuel Mancilla (800,000th package).

Six World War II Veterans were honored guests, including Lt. Colonel Bob Friend, a Tuskegee Airman, and Bea Cohen, the oldest living female World War II Veteran at 103- years-old.

To the delight of their fans, celebrities Leah Remini, Joe Mantegna, Stelio Savante, Bill Jones, Kevyn Major Howard and cast members from the new TV show, Enlisted, joined the festivities, as did Dodgers great Al “The Bull” Ferrara, and radio host and author, Michael Reagan.

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Making a very popular debut as the keepsake item of the Event was the “Gratitude Journal,” a beautiful 148-page retrospective, chronicling Operation Gratitude from its humble beginnings to its One Millionth Package celebration.  This classic “cocktail table-style” Tribute Book will be available to order online this week.

Two Assembly Lines were in full swing, producing 3,000 care packages in just two hours. In addition, the activities included Military and First Responder Booths, fun games with prizes for young children, a letter writing area with custom printed holiday cards for the troops, a paracord bracelet workshop, and a photo booth.

Attendees were served a complimentary lunch courtesy of several community organizations and local businesses. Adding a holiday touch, Santa Claus was on hand giving out gifts to all the children.

“This is an extraordinary day in the life of Operation Gratitude,” said Penny Alfonso, Volunteer and Community Service Coordinator. “I was at the very first Assembly Day in 2003 and it is breathtaking to witness this accomplishment by caring and patriotic Americans all across the country, whose goal is to say ‘Thank You’ to our Military.”

IMG_6702The backdrop to the entire Event was the elegant and moving replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, presented by American Veterans Traveling Tribute. A special memorial program in front of The Wall opened with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem by the St. Francis de Sales Choir, and an inspirational invocation by Captain Brenda Threatt, a chaplain with the California State Military Reserve. Veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, joined Gold and Blue Star Mothers and War Dog, Cpl. Breezy, USMC (Ret.) to lay wreaths in honor of the Fallen.

In a powerful and moving display, the Condor Squadron Officers and Airmen Association touched the crowd with three flyovers of vintage World War II North American AT-6 airplanes. The final flyover performed the “Missing Man” formation in honor of fallen pilots.

In poignant remarks, The Adjutant General of California, Major General David Baldwin and John Barron, COO of American Veterans Traveling Tribute spoke of the sacrifices made by our Military and their families. Also in attendance representing their respective branches were Vice Admiral David Buss, Commander, Naval Air Forces, Brigadier General Vincent Coglianese, Commanding General, 1st Marine Logistics Group (1st MLG); and Command Sergeant Major William Clarke, the Senior Enlisted Soldier in California.

d2144295Steve Politis, a 96-year-old B-17 fighter pilot who was shot down over Yugoslavia in World War II, was visibly moved by the outpouring of respect for America’s Veterans. “I think about the many Operation Gratitude volunteer ‘hands’ that have touched these one million care packages–either by assembling the boxes or making one of the items inside,” he offered. “There is no more beautiful way to express appreciation and let our Military know that people care.”

Always a highlight of Operation Gratitude milestone package celebrations, the reveal of the special gifts for the One Millionth Care Package brought gasps and cheers from the audience of more than 4,000 attendees. Upper Deck, producer of sports cards and authenticated sports memorabilia, presented a poster hand-addressed to the One Millionth Package Recipient, signed by Tiger Woods.

Best Buy, the consumer electronics giant, revealed two Home Entertainment Systems–one each for the Millionth and the One Millionth & One packages. The systems included 55 and 32-inch Insignia TVs, Rocketfish wireless speakers, Insignia digital cameras and picture frames, a plethora of Rocketfish accessories, plus iPads.

Photo by Adam VanGerpenCatching the crowd completely off-guard, Living Essentials, LLC, the distributor of 5-hour ENERGY® shots, unveiled the major gift for the recipient of Operation Gratitude’s One Millionth Care Package: a Ford F-150 pickup truck.  The vehicle will be delivered to the soon-to-be-revealed service member upon returning home from deployment next Spring.

“Our One Millionth Care Package represents the enormous generosity and support of patriotic Americans and businesses all across the country,” said Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude.  “We are thrilled that Upper Deck, Best Buy and 5-hour ENERGY® donated such extraordinary gifts to the milestone package recipient, who today represents all the members of the greatest Military on earth.”

An exciting secret overseas delivery of The One Millionth Care Package, containing symbolic keys to the Ford F-150 and certificates for the other gifts, was revealed to the public on NBC’s TODAY Show and Nightly News with Brian Williams on Thursday, December 12.

See the NBC Nightly News segment here: Care Packages Brighten Sailors’ Spirits

Looking ahead, Blashek noted that even as America’s longest war is coming to an end, our Girl Scoutstroops continue to deploy to “hot-spots” far from home for long periods of time, and 40,000 Wounded Warriors, 23 million Veterans and their families wonder whether they have been forgotten. “Operation Gratitude’s goal remains the same: Lift the spirits and meet the evolving needs of our Active Duty and Veteran communities, and provide volunteer opportunities for all Americans to express their appreciation to members of our Military,” she asserted. “Today we have started our March to the Second Million.”

To see more great photos from the day, please visit:

March to a Million Event — Album 1
March to a Million Event — Album 2
March to a Million Event — Album 3
March to a Million Event — Album 4

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Operation Gratitude In the News

The outpouring of so many wonderful volunteers has generated some very exciting press coverage, including the actual assembly of the care packages and your donations of dollars and items. YOU make it possible for Operation Gratitude to continue sending care packages of love and support to our  courageous service members far from home.

Like our Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter to get up to the moment breaking Operation Gratitude news, read troop letters as they arrive, see great photos of our Military at work and with our care packages, and to learn about the delivery of our 600,000th Care Package!.

Check out Operation Gratitude’s milestone event when we assembled our 600,000th care package and see all the surprises it will contain for one brave service member representing all our heroes:

Operation Gratitude Reaches Its 600,000th Package

 

See how Polaris Industries and Victory Motorcycles have partnered with Operation Gratitude to say “Thanks” to our troops:

Thank You to Deployed Troops

And here’s an opportunity to view the Fox News story featuring our 98-year old volunteer, Joan, who has been knitting thousands of scarves for the troops since World War II, including more than 527 just this year for Operation Gratitude: Knitting: A Patriotic Duty

Watch and listen to our volunteers in action as they assemble care packages on a very rainy day in Southern California:

Operation Gratitude: A Piece of Home for Military Abroad

With your support, Operation Gratitude will continue to mail care packages to service members deployed in harm’s way. Read the heartwarming troop thank you letters in Mail Call to understand how your dollars make an impact on each service member, and see the smiles you put on their faces in the Photo Gallery.

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New Bruins Send Gratitude to Troops Worldwide

Aug 05, 2010  By Jessica Tang

Courtesy of UCLA Today

Roughly 5,000 U.S. military service members in hostile regions around the world will soon be receiving care packages in the mail containing a little music, Joe Bruin’s favorite apparel and a lot of gratitude, compliments of UCLA’s new freshman class.

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An incoming first-year student packages UCLA apparel, an iTunes gift card and a handwritten letter for U.S. military service members.

As a powerful introduction to UCLA’s commitment to volunteerism, incoming first-year students are assembling Bruin care packages destined for U.S. service members that contain UCLA apparel, iTunes gift cards and letters students have written to express their appreciation for the invaluable service these men and women are providing.
“I’m glad to have the opportunity to take part and show my appreciation to the troops since I haven’t had the chance to do so on my own,” said Karen Lively, an incoming comparative literature major, who was part of an assembly line putting together the packages. “It’s a good introduction to service at UCLA, especially in discovering new ways to give back to the community.”
Part of the new student orientation, the program was organized by the UCLA Volunteer Center and UCLA Summer Orientation Program in partnership with Operation Gratitude, a volunteer-run, nonprofit group based in Van Nuys that has sent more than 500,000 care packages to troops all over the world. It is the first time that Operation Gratitude has partnered with a university on this scale, said David Bloome, campaign director for the Volunteer Center.
Following up on last year’s highly successful Volunteer Day in the first week of the fall quarter, the center wanted to expand on ways to instill a culture of volunteerism with students’ very first exposure to UCLA, organizers said. This fall’s Volunteer Day will be held on Sept. 21.
“The volunteer center is bridging different parts of the campus to make an impact as broadly and deeply as possible,” said Antoinette Mongelli, executive director of the center.
Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude, was on hand Aug. 3 as new freshmen formed an assembly line to put together the packets. “It’s a special situation since many of the students are the same age as the service men and women to whom they are writing,” she said. And receiving Bruin apparel “should be entertaining and energizing,” unless, of course, a troop member identifies more strongly with UCLA’s crosstown rival.
Good timing played a role in obtaining $125,000 worth of in-kind gifts. Bloome contacted ASUCLA licensing director Cynthia Holmes who referred him to Campus Drive, a Montana-based apparel company that is a UCLA collegiate licensee.
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Jason Davenport, ROTC instructor at UCLA, looks on as freshman write personal letters in hopes of boosting service members’ morale.

“It was a miracle — the company just happened to have excess UCLA-branded garments they were looking to donate at the exact time we needed it. The president of Campus Drive, Jeff Selvig, even transported the clothing to ASUCLA for us. His generosity was stunning,” Bloome said. In addition, Apple donated $20 iTunes gift cards to package with the apparel.

During opening ceremonies for this summer’s orientation, Bloome addressed students and sparked their interest in becoming a community of heroes.
While many of the incoming students have already been involved in volunteering at their high schools, Bloome said participating in Operation Gratitude “sets an expectation for new students to be participant citizens, leaders and heroes. It’s a fun part of an overall strategy to build active community volunteerism and turn actions into deeds.”
“Dear U.S. Hero,” one student wrote as an opening. Others wrote about their excitement at being at UCLA and shared their favorite sports and hobbies. “It’s almost like writing to a pen pal for them,” said Edwin Luna, an orientation counselor.
“The notes the students have written seem very detailed and positive,” said Roxanne Neal, director of the UCLA New Student and Transition Programs. “One student even carried around a soccer ball all day just to donate it with his package.”
ROTC members, including Juan Bustamante, an active-duty Marine currently studying geography at UCLA, talked to students about how receiving care packages affected him and other service members. “Mail call is always a good day,” he said. “I’ve gotten Girl Scout cookies and beef jerky in the past, but not clothing. It’s a good motivation for people.”
The three organizations hope to partner again next year, after seeing the impact that personal letters written by UCLA students can bring. Some soldiers don’t get mail, and that might affect their outlook, Blashek said. “Your letters could save someone’s life.”
For more information, see the Volunteer Center’s Orientation website. For more information about Operation Gratitude, see this website.

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Soldier Receives Harley Davidson Motorcycle in Myrtle Beach

MYRTLE BEACH – A Fort Bragg soldier just back from Afghanistan is anxiously awaiting the day he gets the Harley Davidson motorcycle that matches the keys he found in a care package.

Army Staff Sergeant Michael Fullerton, with 82nd Division Special Troops Battalion is one of two soldiers who found Harley Davidson keys in care packages from the States.

Fullerton will receive his Harley Sportster in a Presentation Ceremony on Friday, July 23, 2010.
The ceremony is to take place at 12:30 pm at the Hall of Heroes, which is located at The Rawcliffe Conference Center, 201 75th Ave North, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The bikes were donated by Lee Rawcliffe, owner of Sands Resorts and Don Allen, CEO of American Veterans Traveling Tribute to show their appreciation to the men and women serving in the U.S. military.
They asked Operation Gratitude to assist in the random selection of two soldiers.

Operation Gratitude, a non-profit organization that puts together care packages for soldiers, dropped the keys into 2 random, unmarked care packages.

What a surprise when Fullerton and US Army Sergeant William Herne, an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division, opened their care packages.

“I’m still in shock from winning so I’m a little lost for words. It’s the coolest thing I’ve received in my life,“ said Herne, a native of Addison, NY.

Fullerton, a native of Quincy, Mass. was very happy because his wife likes motorcycles and it will be a treat for her.

Herne will receive his bike when he returns from overseas this fall.

“Our purpose is to show continuous support for the Americans who protect our country,“ said Lee Rawcliffe.
In 2009, Sands Resorts dedicated Hall of Heroes, a tribute to American Heroes throughout the history of our country.

Additionally, Sands Resorts and AVTT have partnered on various projects of gratitude for Wounded Warriors and VFWs.

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