Today marks the end of a special month – one that connects those in and out of the military through the common thread of gratitude. Operation Gratitude volunteers displayed their gratitude this month with record-breaking results.
Since 1999, when Congress designated May as National Military Appreciation Month, a grateful nation has embraced the opportunity to express its appreciation for our men and women in uniform, both past and present. From remembering those who died in active service on Memorial Day to celebrating important anniversaries and events like Armed Forces Day, Military Spouse Appreciation Day, and VE Day; the month of May serves an important role in not only reminding Americans about, but giving them the chance to recognize, the selflessness and sacrifices of those who serve and their families.
As a 20-year Marine, I have been honored and humbled, both on active duty and as a veteran, to see and be the recipient of this outpouring of support and appreciation. As the CEO of Operation Gratitude, I am equally honored and humbled to be part of an organization that gives Americans everywhere tangible ways to say “Thank You” and to demonstrate their support of our Military through hands-on volunteerism.
Over the past 15 years Operation Gratitude has mobilized more than 350,000 volunteers nationwide to produce and ship more than 2 Million Care Packages to deployed Troops and their families left behind, to Veterans, Recruit Graduates, Wounded Heroes and their Care Givers, and to First Responders. Our volunteer base continues to grow rapidly across the country, because Americans are looking for ways to put words into action.
The grassroots movement that our Founder, Carolyn Blashek, started on her dining room table a decade and a half ago was never more apparent than this past month, when more than 16,000 volunteers committed 30,000 hours of their time to produce nearly 32,000 Care Packages. These expressions of gratitude were made possible by the 61,000 items that were donated by the American public through collection drives and individual acts of kindness; the 13,800 handmade items including scarves, hats and paracord survival bracelets; and the tens of thousands of handwritten letters of support.
In the spirit of “actions speaking louder than words,” last week alone, Operation Gratitude sent close to 22,000 Care Packages. 4,541 Care Packages were shipped to deployed Troops in dozens of locations across the globe, and more than 17,000 Care Packages were delivered to Veterans, Recruit Graduates, children of deployed Servicemembers, and First Responders in 58 separate shipments to 23 different states.
While Military Appreciation Month comes to a close today, Operation Gratitude’s mission is more important than ever. The fact is: Our country is full of tremendously generous and patriotic citizens who passionately want to make a difference and express their appreciation and support for those who serve – not in a given month, but every day of the year. They just don’t know how.
Hands-on volunteerism in communities across America is the how. And as our nation’s longest war continues, that volunteerism, as practiced through Operation Gratitude, is the means to build meaningful connections between our citizens and our Servicemembers and their families. Appreciation for our military is not bound by a month of the year, it is enabled by the actions we take every day to show our gratitude in tangible ways.
Kevin M. Schmiegel
Lieutenant Colonel, USMC (Ret.)
Chief Executive Officer, Operation Gratitude