Operation Gratitude

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Email from an “Annoyed” Army First Sergeant…

Our care packages certainly aren’t meant to annoy the recipients, but somehow we managed to do just that recently:

I am writing this a week before Christmas, from ‘an undisclosed location in southwest Asia’. As I’m writing this, I am a bit annoyed at your organization. Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep up the façade of a tough old Army First Sergeant with tears streaming down your face?

When I arrived on duty this morning, I was greeted by a package on my desk from Operation Gratitude. I am happy to say this package was not the first of this type that my Soldiers and I have received over the past few months. Each time, I am TOTALLY overwhelmed at the support shown to us, complete strangers, by various individuals and groups of individuals, also complete strangers. If ever there is doubt where the true beauty and strength of our country lies, it’s in men and women such as those comprising your organization, who readily and unselfishly give of themselves to help others. 

I opened the package, more out of curiosity than out of need for the items contained therein. On top, I found a stack of cards and notes and your magazine. As I started reading the notes…I simply cannot describe the feelings. I was completely overwhelmed at the  expressions of support, appreciation and well-wishes. The cards and notes from children and young people were especially touching as I realize they represent future generations of Americans…and realize they are being raised to recognize, understand, and appreciate important concepts such as sacrifice, courage and honor.

As I read your letter in the beginning of the magazine, I was deeply touched that you not only felt the initial compassion when you encountered that Soldier returning to the ‘war zone’… but that you invested the time, expense, interest, dedication, passion and personal and family sacrifice to do something about it…and something that was/is so meaningful to so many.

I think perhaps the most touching thing of all is to see the pictures of the volunteers of your organization…people from all walks of life…multiple generations…united by a love for our country and a dedication to purpose. Trust me when I say, the feelings are indescribable.

Thank you so much for your dedication. A BIG THANK YOU to your people and your organization for all of the hope and renewed faith you distribute with your packages. The physical items contained in the packages are much appreciated, but the tremendous intangibles contained within are priceless. I truly hope and pray that our Lord will bless each and every one of you during this holiday season…May each of you experience an extra measure of peace and joy during this festive time, knowing the smiles that you have spread to the most remote and unsettled of regions.

With warmest regards this holiday season,
L.L.H.
1SG, USA
Afghanistan

Thank YOU, 1SG H., and all who serve alongside you! We are honored to be able to support you by sending care packages filled with goodies, letters, thanks and love from home!

And to those of you on the Home Front who have made this all possible — the volunteers, donors, knitters, letter writers, recyclers, collectors and supporters — our deepest thanks to each and every one of you. We could go on and on singing your praises and expressing our gratitude to you…but we feel “Annoyed Army First Sergeant” says it best, so we say: “Ditto that!”

All our best wishes for a very blessed, healthy and peaceful New Year to one and all! We look forward to continuing this journey with you in 2012!

Love,
The Operation Gratitude Team

(Note: To receive email notices regarding new Operation Gratitude blog posts as they are published, please subscribe via the link to the right.)

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Operation Gratitude’s 750,000th Care Package Celebration

As more than 2000 volunteers, corporate sponsors and other special guests looked on in surprise, 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 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 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 special 750,000th Celebration Gifts to Rodriguez (pictured, left), his wife, Tania, and their daughter Camila.

Here is a full list of all the items generously donated for the 750,000th Care Package:

–Handmade scarf by Carol Baumgartner
–Handmade quilt made by an Anonymous Crafter
Kellytoy.com: Special huge Operation Gratitude Battalion Buddy “Chum” for Camila

NBC-Universal: Four tickets to Universal Studios, including Front of the Line passes.
Disney: Four 3-day Disneyland Resort Park Hopper Tickets and a three-night stay at the Disneyland Hotel.
Alacer Corp.: A one-year supply of Emergen-C
Upper Deck Sports: A framed and autographed Wayne Gretzy poster and a painting of the Golf Masters: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.
Los Angeles Lakers: Three tickets one row behind courtside for the Lakers vs. Utah Jazz, and presentation of the Official Game Ball to the Head Referee at Center Court.
Los Angeles Kings:  Four Hero of the Night tickets, including dinner, parking and on-ice recognition.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Four tickets to the opening game at Los Angeles Dodger Stadium as Veteran of the Game, along with special hospitality, plus a personal invitation by Dodger great Al “The Bulldog” Ferrara to be his guest at another game.
UCLA Volunteer Center: UCLA hats and t-shirts plus two tickets to the 2012 Rose Bowl Game.
Rachael Ray Show: Two tickets to a live taping of the show, plus roundtrip airfare and hotel. Sgt. Rodriguez will be invited onstage to eat the meal Rachael prepared for that show.
David Nelson & the Buffalo Bills Football Team: A trip to the Buffalo Bills training camp, including roundtrip airfare; hotel; hospitality at the training camp; private “Meet and Greet” opportunities with players and team merchandise.
Kathy Ireland Worldwide and Life Style Designer Kathy Ireland:  A Hawaiian Dream Vacation, including roundtrip airfaire on Hawaiian Airlines from Los Angeles to Oahu; Limousine service to one of Kathy’s Oasis World Estates Resort Properties; Romantic Dinner at Chai’s Island Bistro; an Island Tour; and an assortment of Kathy Ireland Home products, including jewelry, home decor, china and crystal furnishings.  In addition, if Sgt. Rodriguez and his wife would like to renew their vows, Kathy will arrange the ceremony and provide Tania a wedding gown from kathy ireland Weddings 2be, a Mon Cheri Company.  Additional gifts from Kathy include CDs and autographed books from Janet Jackson and  a copy of Elizabeth Taylor’s best-selling book,  My Love Affair With Jewelry.

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.

Operation Gratitude volunteers were honored to work 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 Bob Blumenfield, City Controller Wendy Greuel, City Councilman Dennis Zine), members of the Motorcycle community, and dozens of school, church, scout and civic organizations.

The ceremony began with the National Anthem performed by music duo Rogers & Bos — Matt Rogers and Bryon Bos (pictured, right) — 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, a finalist on American Idol, is the host of the TV show, and Bos composed the theme song.

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 still away from home and in harm’s way, our mission   continues, along with 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
21100 Lassen Street
Chatsworth, CA 91311

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


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CBS Sunday Morning Pays a Visit to Operation Gratitude

A message from Operation Gratitude Founder, Carolyn Blashek:

“Thank you to all who have commented so kindly (and even those few not so kindly) on the CBS Sunday Morning segment that aired on December 11. I have been blessed by family and friends who support me and all my endeavors — I love and thank them for it! But the ultimate success of Operation Gratitude is due to the courageous troops who inspire all of us and to the devoted volunteers and generous supporters who come from all walks of life — joined together in common cause to put a smile on a service member’s face and to let every member of the Military know that they are respected and appreciated by the American people. My deepest thanks to each and every person who has written a letter, knit a scarf, collected and sent items, recycled cell phones, donated funds, spread the word and/or walked into our armory to lend a hand. You are the ones who made, and make, Operation Gratitude happen. Together we will continue this great journey.”

If you missed seeing the story on Operation Gratitude, the video has been posted on YouTube and you can watch it here:

For more information on CBS Sunday Morning, please visit their website: CBS Sunday Morning.

More Helpful Links:
Donate Now — Every gift of $15 helps pay assembly and shipping costs to send another care package.
Scarves for Troops — Scarf, Hat & Cool-Tie instructions, directions and FAQs.
Letters to Heroes  Write to deployed troops, wounded warriors and veterans from previous conflicts.
Letter writing flyers — General and for Teachers.
Wish List” Items — Important Shipping and Donation Instructions.
Recycle Cell Phones — Another way to help us raise funds!

As always — THANK YOU for your generous support!

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Spartan Race to a Million Contest Supports the Troops!

Here is another way to help Operation Gratitude before the year is over!

Join in to support our cause and raise funds to send care packages to deployed  troops by simply “liking” the Spartan Race page and entering their “Race to a Million” contest on Facebook! Each contest entry will generate a 20-cent donation.  Plus, if Spartan reaches One Million “Likes” by the deadline of December 31, 2011, Spartan will donate ANOTHER $50,000 to us! Thank you for your help!

Learn more about Spartan Races near you by visiting their cool website to see how their fun obstacle course challenges work!

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Celebrating Another Operation Gratitude Milestone

All across the country, we will have cause to celebrate on Saturday, December 17, 2011 as the 750,000th Operation Gratitude Care Package rolls off the assembly line at the National Guard Armory in Van Nuys, California!

Up to 1000 volunteers and supporters are expected to join the Operation Gratitude Assembly Day for this Milestone Celebration. Volunteers and Supporters like you make all this possible. We could not touch the lives and hearts of so many of our courageous service members and their families without you.

With your help this past year, we launched two new programs: Wounded Warrior and Battalion Buddy Care Packages. Due to the popular demand for these packages, Operation Gratitude shipped a record 150,000 care packages in just one year…. This brings us to our 750,000th care package!

The Assembly Line will open at 9 a.m. We expect the 750,000th package to hit the line at around 11:15 a.m. PST, to the cheers of up to 1,000 Volunteers, Military members, Dignitaries, Legislators, and Celebrities. When that happens, we will halt all activity, gather everyone together, and start the Celebration!

In addition to the standard items and personal letters provided by more than 250 corporate donors and by individuals and volunteer organizations across the country, the 750,000th Care Package will include Top Secret Surprises for a Top Secret Warrior, brought to us by none other than Santa Claus. Expect exciting and classically American gifts donated by our Corporate Partners to be put in the Milestone box. Six previous Operation Gratitude milestone packages contained the keys to new vehicles (motorcycles and SUVs)! A special delivery of the 750,000th Package is being arranged as we speak.

As part of the Milestone Celebration, there will also be a variety of delicious product samples and a hearty lunch, provided by Corporate and local business donors.

Volunteers (ages 12 years and up) are invited to assist in the on-site care package activities.

Please keep in mind, Financial Donations are still needed to pay the assembly and postage costs of $15 per care package.

Every tax deductible donation of $15 sends another care package, personally addressed to an American hero, and filled with 50+ assorted snack, entertainment and personal care items valued at $100 or more.

Please ensure that every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine deployed in harm’s way, and every recuperating Wounded Warrior, feels loved and appreciated this holiday season. Please donate online today.

If you prefer to send donations by check, please make payable and mail to:

Operation Gratitude
16444 Refugio Road
Encino, California 91436

Thank you again for your tremendous support of our mission. We hope you will share the excitement of our 750,000th Care Package Celebration!

Location:
Operation Gratitude
21100 Lassen Street
Chatsworth, CA 91311

Time:
Care Package Assembly: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Celebration and Lunch: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
We invite you to stay for lunch following the celebration and to continue assembling packages until 4 p.m.

More Links:
For additional volunteer information:
Volunteer
To learn how you can help:
Support Activities
Donate while you shop: Great Ideas
To Request Care Packages for Deployed Troops: Request Packages

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