September 9 is National Teddy Bear Day, and I wanted to share a few stories that demonstrate Operation Gratitude’s Battalion Buddies are much more than just stuffed bears — and give you an opportunity to bring smiles to thousands of military children whose parents will be deployed this September 11th.
I can remember that feeling like it was yesterday — the pit in my stomach, the lump in my throat, and the tears streaming down my face — as I tried to console my three boys outside of Dulles International Airport. My heart ached knowing there was nothing I could say or do to comfort Luke, Karl, and Jack as I departed for the Middle East and my last deployment as a Marine in 2008.
A decade later and for the past 2 1/2 years I have been part of an organization that has comforted more than 25,000 military children like my boys. I was honored to join local volunteers in PA, NJ, and, NC, and VA to deliver more than 1,300 Battalion Buddies to children of deployed and deploying Service Members. As difficult as those deliveries were, I felt a tremendous sense of pride seeing those cuddly bears in the arms of hundreds of military children during challenging separations from their parents.
I realized it’s not just a Battalion Buddy – it is the source of great comfort and joy for military kids, like this little girl whose mother emailed us last year:
My husband is deployed and my daughter (who is 5) is struggling intensely with his absence. He is her hero and her very best friend and service is so spotty she can’t even talk to him.
Today she got a package with a note and a little bear. It broke my heart to see her so overwhelmed by it. She completely left her dinner, went straight to bed and snuggled “daddy” all night. This morning she sat him in her daddy’s seat and chatted to him at breakfast just like he was there.
Thank you for this small but substantial blessing. This really is so hard, and I’m just glad someone else understands.
With gratitude from a mother’s heart,
When my wife and I saw these photos we cried remembering the same expressions on our own children’s faces. As a father I wish that Luke, Karl, and Jack were provided the same comfort as this 5-year-old girl. As a 20-year Marine Veteran I know the most difficult challenge our deployed service members face is the knowledge that our families left behind must endure hardship.
This is clear in the words of the Commander of 1st Brigade 82nd Airborne Division in the email he sent shortly after several hundred children received our Battalion Buddies when the unit deployed to Iraq earlier this year.
I wanted to send my thanks for what Operation Gratitude did for the families of our Paratroopers yesterday. The effort and energy that went into providing a simple act of love to the kids of this Brigade will never be forgotten. I am grateful that organizations like yours exist to recognize the sacrifice our families make for this nation. You, your team and your volunteers help us remember, in these times, that love and a community of family transcends all; and that while we are away, our loved ones will always be taken care of.
I, and the Paratroopers of this Brigade, consider you all part of the Devil family now. We will be forever grateful and I hope that when we return, we can thank you in person.
With my sincere thanks!
Colonel A. Saslav
Commander TF DEVIL
1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division
For the Paratroopers of 82nd Airborne Division, each bear that we hand-delivered to their children was not just a Battalion Buddy, it was an act of love and reassurance from the community that while they were away, their loved ones would be taken care of.
The “community of family” that Colonel Saslav describes is something I have seen time and again, and it is Operation Gratitude’s ultimate goal. From Milton PA to Norfolk VA to Fayetteville NC we not only provided our volunteers with an opportunity to say “thank you for your service,” we built bridges between grateful Americans and military families. In each case, they were not just Battalion Buddies, they united and strengthened communities and gave our deployed service members the peace of mind, strength, and resolve to carry out their mission.
While I can’t change the hardships that my own three sons endured, I am honored to be part of an organization that will profoundly impact 20,000 military children like them each year. That is made possible by the actions of more than 100,000 volunteers whose hands touch those bears and assemble them with love and care, as well as the generous support of corporations like CSX Transportation and individuals like you who fund the materials and our shipments nationwide.
As our nation’s longest war continues and Operation Gratitude delivers care packages to 12,000 deployed Troops on 9/11 we will do everything we can to support thousands of military children who face the challenges of being separated from their fathers and mothers as the 2020 school year starts. Operation Gratitude will continue to recognize that they serve and sacrifice, too.
Thank you for your continued support of Deployed Service Members and their families.