20 Years at War and Our Renewed Commitment

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Thirty years ago this past Sunday, the Gulf War started. I had just reported to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina as a young Second Lieutenant. Four months later, my Artillery Battalion would deploy at the tail end of Desert Shield — in plenty of time to prepare our unit and our Marines for Operation Desert Storm. I can’t believe it was three decades ago.

This week the tragic deaths of 8 Marines and a Sailor in a training exercise off the coast of California is a stark reminder that our nation’s longest war continues. For 20 out of 30 years, we have been fighting the Global War on Terror, and Operation Gratitude has been uniting the country and communities — giving every American the opportunity to express their appreciation through hands-on volunteerism.

I am proud to be part of Operation Gratitude and make an impact on tens of thousands of deployed Troops, alongside YOU and more than one million other grateful Americans who volunteer with us each year. Together with you, I pledge Operation Gratitude’s renewed commitment to meet their needs during these challenging times.

Last week, we demonstrated to 5,035 service members around the world not only that we appreciate them, but also that we understand the tremendous sacrifices they and their families make every day in service to our nation.  

I stood next to our COO, retired Marine Colonel Paul Cucinotta, on the floor of the DC National Guard Armory, and my eyes welled up with pride as we watched retired Marine MSgt Rich Headley push the last pallet of individually addressed care packages onto the back of a USPS truck. Perhaps I got choked up with the knowledge that Rich was on the receiving end of an Operation Gratitude Care package twice when he was deployed with a Marine Infantry Battalion that fought some of the fiercest battles in Afghanistan. 

It is hard to believe, in the midst of coronavirus, we were able to bring together 120 volunteers over 3 days, including 26 young Police Cadets, DC National Guardsmen and their families; and a group of young mission-driven volunteers from Starbucks, who came from all walks of life and stayed beyond mission completion to make hundreds of paracord survival bracelets with me and Paul. I was inspired to see so many young people embrace service and give back in a hands-on way. 

We also welcomed volunteers from the DC Mayor’s Office and five other military and veteran nonprofits who came to “pay it forward” as partners of Operation Gratitude by saying thank you to our brave men and women on the frontlines and build bridges in the community. We proudly joined forces with Hiring Our Heroes, National Military Family Association, Elizabeth Dole Foundation, United Through Reading, and Team Red, White and Blue, whose collective reach to our military, veterans, and their families is in the millions.

Our story about actions speaking louder than words was covered extensively by Good Morning Washington and ABC7 – WJLA with four live interviews and this taped piece that appeared four more times that day, reaching 7.66 million people in total. As a result, we have seen thousands of grateful Americans from our nation’s capital, Maryland, and northern Virginia visit our website to learn more about our organization. 

We built on this momentum by issuing a press release on Friday announcing Operation Gratitude reaching the 300,000 milestone for COVID-19 frontline responders impacted since March 22, 2020.

We also announced a new partnership with the American Red Cross on Wednesday, July 29th, when Operation Gratitude delivered 10,000 additional care packages to deployed Troops in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe with the help of Red Cross staff and volunteers.  With scheduled quarterly shipments on 9/11 and the Holiday Season, this partnership will result in a minimum of 40,000 additional deployed Troops impacted in 2020, at a time when they need our support. 

To close, I wanted to share three reflections as the CEO of this amazing organization:

First, we simply could not do this without YOU. Your continued support made everything I mentioned in this email possible.

Second, as many nonprofit organizations are forced to do less in a COVID-19 environment, Operation Gratitude has found a way to do more. Think about this — 15,000 Deployed Service Members were touched by your gratitude and our Christmas in July campaign in just three weeks. This is in addition to the 300,000 doctors and nurses in hospitals, first responders, and National Guardsmen in more than 250 locations in 35 states and DC that we impacted in just four months. 

And lastly, I am asking you to extend your thoughts and prayers for the eight Marines and Sailor from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and for their families left behind. My heart is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of these nine young service members, all of whom were less than 24 years old and paid the ultimate sacrifice. 

This is why Operation Gratitude’s mission to forge strong bonds between civilians and our military and first responders is more important than ever. Saying “thank you for your service” is the start of a conversation that leads to a meaningful connection; creates a better understanding of what it means to serve; and ultimately builds bridges that strengthen the resolve of our nation’s heroes during these challenging times. 

I am forever grateful to be part of Operation Gratitude and serve alongside you to express appreciation to our men and women in uniform and their families, so they, in turn, know that a grateful nation stands behind them.

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