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Blood, Sweat, and Tears

On a recent staff call, our Senior Director of Military and Veteran Programs and retired Marine, Rich Headley, used a perfect analogy to describe Operation Gratitude’s efforts during Military Appreciation Month. 

Rich talked about the blood, sweat, and tears that our team and volunteers shed across the country at assembly days and deliveries and our audacious goal of impacting 50,000 service members and their families.

When we began planning our military appreciation campaign, our objective was simple. With our actions, our goal was to stand out as the most impactful organization in the country for our military families and our volunteers. 

And that’s exactly what we did. 

From our HQ in Los Angeles to Atlanta, Augusta and Fort Stewart, Georgia to the cities of Jacksonville in Florida and North Carolina to Washington DC, Philadelphia and NYC, and in dozens of other cities in between, we left an indelible mark. And the bonds we sparked in all of those communities over the past three years are starting to take hold. 

Our mission to forge strong bonds between Americans and their military and first responder heroes is being realized. But it is not without our share of blood, sweat, and tears being shed alongside our volunteers, as well as the men and women in uniform whom we continue to serve with dedication and commitment. 

Since starting as the CEO in December of 2017, nothing makes me prouder than hearing retired Marine MSgt. Headley and other members of our team recognize what we truly do as an organization. When I listened to Rich talk about the blood shed on box cutters, rolls of Gorilla Glue tape, and cardboard boxes; the sweat soaking through OG RED t-shirts; and the tears of pride shed in DC and NYC last week, I got choked up too.​​​​

What happened to Rich, our team, and our volunteers during Military Appreciation Month will happen to YOU, too, when you come to an OG service project or delivery in person and witness the profound impact we make firsthand. I say this with such confidence, because I have seen it myself, time and again, in hundreds of communities nationwide. 

Rich’s blood, sweat, and tears analogy also perfectly captures what our deployed service members, veterans, first responders, and their families have faced over two decades fighting the Global War on Terrorism, exacerbated by the pandemic, protests, and social unrest over the past year. Blood and sweat have been shed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and in the streets of metropolitan cities. In response, Operation Gratitude brought tears of joy to hundreds of thousands of brave service men and women and their families during some of their most challenging and trying times. 

Those words — blood, sweat, and tears — raced through my mind over and over again on Memorial Day, on a 12-mile hike with my best friend, our COO Paul Cucinotta, and hundreds of other fellow veterans and civilian neighbors. We joined together in a Ruck to Remember our fallen brothers and sisters, visiting each of the war memorials in our nation’s capital. 

Paul and I joined Noah Currier, founder of Oscar Mike, and hundreds of fellow veterans and civilians for a Ruck to Remember our fallen heroes. We placed handmade paracord bracelets on the wrists of dozens of Vietnam veterans at the Vietnam War Memorial.

We sweated to honor the blood that millions of service members have shed in places like Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Omaha Beach, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Then we stood together. We knelt alone in front of headstones in Section 60 of Arlington Cemetery. For some of our dearest friends, we shed tears, who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We shed tears for their families left behind.

When we stepped away and walked the last mile back to our cars, I was overcome with emotion watching Gold Star Families stand and kneel too in front of the simple white stones that bear the names of their loved ones. They have cried oceans of tears for their husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters.

Visiting Section 60 in Arlington National Cemetery, I left this card written by a grateful American for my dear friend, LtCol Kevin Shea, USMC who was killed in Iraq on his 38th Birthday leaving behind his wife, Ami, and their two children. I told Kevin that Operation Gratitude would honor his memory by continuing to support deployed service members and their families. 
Gold Star Family and Operation Gratitude Ambassadors, Janice Chance and Jenine Melton visiting the grave of Capt. Jesse Melton, beloved son and brother. Every day they honor Jesse’s life and legacy of service by taking action with Operation Gratitude and many other charitable organizations.

At Operation Gratitude, we honor the memories of our fallen heroes not just on Memorial Day but every day. With our blood, sweat, and tears we will always remember them by serving and supporting those who follow in their footsteps. 

I’m asking you to join us in that vein. In just over 100 days we will honor the victims of 9/11 through acts of service on the 20th anniversary of that fateful day. Our goal, again, will be to make a greater impact than any other organization in the country. We will touch the lives of 50,000 first responders and deployed service members and inspiring countless volunteers to take action on a national day of service.  

For each of the next 100 days, I’m asking you to join in hands-on volunteerism however you can. Every day, work on knitting or crocheting one scarf, craft one paracord bracelet, or handwrite one letter of appreciation. Work on just one simple act of gratitude each day for a service member deployed in harm’s way or first responders serving and protecting our communities.

Think about the difference we will make together. 100 acts of gratitude. 100 lives impacted, multiplied by thousands of dedicated OG volunteers.​​​​​​ And our team will be there with you, every step of the way.

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RECENT ENTRIES

Flag Day and Measuring Impact

I know the civilian-military divide may be unthinkable to some, but it is real. And while I’ve heard from a few volunteers that they were upset to learn an overwhelming majority of our troops and their families feel misunderstood, we must ask “what more can we DO about it?”

As we approach 9/11’s 20th anniversary, Operation Gratitude is redoubling our efforts to address this issue and taking steps to measure the impact of what we are DOING to solve it.

Catch Our Breath

While it’s important to occasionally take pause and appreciate what’s been accomplished, the opportunity to catch our breath could only be but a brief one. We choose to press on because our men and women in uniform can’t catch their breath either.