Operation Gratitude

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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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marchtoamillion-Newsletter

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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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