A ten letter word that is almost always associated with the military.
Although deployments are common, they are far from easy to go through, not only for the Service Member who has to be away from their family, but also for the family members who are at home missing them. Military parents selflessly comfort their children in hopes it will ease the adjustment to their “new normal.”
I am one of those parents who had to comfort my kids as we said “see you soon” to our service member when he left for a year-long deployment in 2018. The photo to the left is from that day.
A few months ago, Operation Gratitude volunteers and I delivered our signature Battalion Buddies to the children of a deployed Marine unit during their holiday party held at Leatherneck Lanes, a bowling alley at Camp Pendleton.
As you can imagine, the joy and excitement these Military families expressed upon receiving their Buddies was heartwarming.
Something that cannot be captured in a picture is our experience watching these military families go through a roller coaster of emotions. While they were bowling, a few large screens dropped down from the ceiling and a video started to play.
The video was a montage of every single Marine in the deployed unit, sending a personal holiday message to his family. There was not a dry eye in that bowling alley while that video played.
A majority of the family members, especially the children, had no idea they would be seeing their Marines. To the left you will see one of my favorite pictures from the night: a 1st Battalion 4th Marine child holding a Battalion Buddy watching this video.
Operation Gratitude volunteers witnessed the children hugging and holding on to their new Battalion Buddies; one young boy even said it looked like his Daddy. We heard over and over from the Marine spouses how much Operation Gratitude’s presence and support gave them the boost of motivation they needed to make it through to the next month.
We were overwhelmed by the immense appreciation that poured from the Military families, who realized that across the country, Operation Gratitude volunteers had hand-stuffed and cared for these bears for their children.
I was speechless as I watched three of our volunteers, Miss Canyon Hills, Mary Kohaut, and her mother and father, interact with these families as civilians from the local community. They asked the spouses questions about the military and their Marines; they asked about their family dynamics, their kids, their plans when the deployment was over.
Suddenly, it hit me like a ton of bricks: Mary and her parents were given the opportunity to witness the responses of the military families right in front of their eyes, live, not through television or on social media.
What a powerful moment!
Operation Gratitude bridged a divide that night
I know I’m not the only person who believes our country’s Service Members are truly the backbone of America. The additional truth is, the family members back home — the parents, husbands, wives, and children, are the main support system for that backbone! Without them, our Service Members would not be able to focus on their mission: to keep our America, this beautiful country, safe.
Operation Gratitude gives civilians the opportunity to better understand what a Service Member’s family goes through while a loved one is deployed fighting for our freedom.
We also show Military Families that there is a support system filled with grateful civilian volunteers who want to recognize the sacrifices that they too are making.
In 2019, Operation Gratitude will deliver more than a half million Care Packages, and we will do this by engaging those thousands of proud and grateful civilians through service projects, community events, and in-person package deliveries across the nation.
Thousands of those Care Packages will be Battalion Buddies hand-delivered to Military Children, and we’re off to a good start — already this year hundreds of Battalion Buddies have been hand-delivered to Military Children in Maryland, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and California.
This month, in celebration of our Sweet Sixteenth Birthday and the Month of the Military Child, over 1600 Battalion Buddies will be delivered to Military Children at Camp Pendleton, California, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Fort Carson, Colorado, Fort Riley, Kansas, and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Please join us today as we say “thank you” to all who serve and have served. Together we can #MakeEveryMinuteCount and support Military Children during a tough time of separation from a deployed parent!
Important: For Battalion Buddy Requests, please have your official military affiliate submit a request or contact our Military Families Program Manager at KPiedra@operationgratitude.com, so we can arrange to send Battalion Buddies to all the children of your unit. We wish we had the resources to be able to ship to individuals but it is not within our mandate and we apologize that we cannot fulfill requests on an individual basis.
Want to help? We are currently looking for Sponsors to continue the program. Please contact Info@OperationGratitude.com to learn about Sponsorship opportunities.
Please Note: We greatly appreciate the service and sacrifice of all military families, but the specific intent of Battalion Buddy packages is to provide comfort to those children who will not see their parent for a long time and need something to hold on to. Please understand that due to very limited resources, we must restrict this program to the children of OVERSEAS deployed/deploying Military only.