She hit the wall.

“You’re so worn out, so physically and emotionally spent that you don’t think you can do it anymore,” Carolyn Blashek says.

“Then you open your mailbox or receive an e-mail, and there it is again – another little miracle.”

Another thank-you note from a lonely soldier far from family and home who just received one of your Christmas presents. He needed a lift, and you gave it to him.

You read all these little miracles and you’re not tired anymore, Blashek says. You’re reinvigorated and ready to do whatever it takes to make sure every soldier away from home for the holidays gets a personally addressed package with gifts and letters from school kids wishing they come home safe and soon.

Blashek started Operation Gratitude more than four years ago from the living room of her Encino home. She began writing company commanders overseas on her own, asking them for the names of soldiers who were not getting any mail from home.

“I had heard that there were soldiers getting nothing from home, and that just wasn’t right,” she said. No, it wasn’t.

As the number of soldiers grew, so did the number of local elves – more than 1,000 now – who volunteered to help Blashek with her Operation Gratitude holiday drive at the National Guard Armory in Van Nuys.
In the past four years, incredibly, they’ve packaged and sent holiday presents to more than 300,000 servicemen and -women.

Inside the 300,000th soldier’s package, which should arrive a few days after Christmas, there is also the set of keys to a 2008 Jeep.

I wrote about one of those little miracles Blashek is talking about for the USA Weekend Magazine edition Sunday, but because of space limitations I couldn’t tell the whole story.

Now I can.

“All the e-mails I get from soldiers are special, but this one was the most powerful,” Blashek said. “This one broke my heart.”

It was from a staff sergeant who asked that his name and unit and the soldier’s name not be used because he didn’t want the soldier “labeled” by his superiors.

“Although the Army preaches that nothing will be held against a soldier who threatens or thinks about killing himself, even if he gets help, I’ve been in long enough to know they do have a negative label put on them,” he wrote.

The soldier in his platoon never got mail, care packages or anything from home, the sergeant wrote. He was estranged from his family and the only packages he got were labeled “to any service person.”

He began to feel exactly like that. Not an individual, but a nameless soldier – an “occupant,” the sergeant said.

“He was planning suicide on Christmas. We found that out after he finally opened up and talked to the chain of command about what was going through his mind and finally got help for his depression.”

What changed his mind, his superiors wanted to know? The soldier told them he came back to his barracks alone on Christmas Eve (last year) and saw a package on his bunk.

He picked it up expecting to see the label “to any service person” on it. Instead, he saw his name staring back at him.

He opened the package and read the letters from kids addressed to him, and he began to cry. Over the next month, the soldier sought counseling and reached out to his family back home to reconcile their differences.

“Over my deployments I have lost a few soldiers in the platoons I have taken into combat,” the sergeant wrote Blashek. “I have lost a few friends that I have known my entire Army career.

“It’s always heart tearingly hard to write the `letters’ to the families and loved ones. What words can ease the pain?

“I don’t know if I would have the strength, or even what to say to the family of a soldier who had taken his own life.

“But one package, one present from you containing some little things and a few letters from kids made a huge impact in a human’s life.

“It made the difference between a soldier walking down an airplane ramp to the waiting arms of loved ones, or being carried down in a flag draped metal box to their tears.

“You’ve let an old sergeant bring one more of his soldiers back home safely, and for that I am forever in your debt.”

Little miracles on Christmas Day.