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In Their Own Words: I Hope You Know that You Have Made a Difference

In January 1991, I sat in the desert of Saudi Arabia deployed with 2nd Battalion 10th Marines from Camp LeJeune NC for the Gulf War. As a young Second Lieutenant, I was a little scared—but most of all I missed my family as I spent my first holiday season away from them. 

I know our COO, Paul Cucinotta, who spent four Christmas holidays away from his wife and four children over his 27 year career feels the same way—as do the other veterans and military spouses on our team who spent hundreds of birthdays, special occasions and holidays separated from their loved ones. 

As our Holiday Care Packages arrive at their destinations worldwide, we have been hearing from many service members who are experiencing similar challenges with family separations during the holiday season.

One email that stands out for me is a note we received from a Soldier who is currently serving in the same position I held 30 years ago in a Field Artillery Battery in Saudi Arabia.

To the great folks at Operation Gratitude,

Hello all, and Merry Christmas from Chaos Battery, 4-27 FA, 2-1 AD out here in Saudi Arabia!!! My name is 1LT B.W. and I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your support and for the awesome care packages! I’ve attached a few photos with some of the goodies y’all sent us. The paracord bracelet was a great help in drying my clothes, as our laundry facilities aren’t always dependable. Thanks again, and Happy Holidays!
 
Respectfully,
1LT B.W.

US Army Soldier standing in front of an Army vehicle holding an Operation Gratitude Care Package.

In the spirit of this young Army Lieutenant’s note, I think the best way to kick off this year’s Weekly Briefing series is by sharing some of the many, many thank you notes we have begun to receive from a select few of the 20,000 Deployed Troops, Veterans, and Caregivers who received an Operation Gratitude Care Package this past December.

While we don’t ask recipients to write thank you notes to our volunteers, the emails and photos keep pouring in day after day, reminding us all that it’s not just a care package. In the words of this young mother who is separated from her husband and children and isolated due to quarantine on Christmas Day—“you have made a difference”. 

Dear Sir or Ma’am,

My Master Sergeant delivered one of your care packages to me, today. I want to say so much, but none of the words seem sufficient to express my gratitude.

This was the first Christmas I have spent away from my kids and husband and found myself entering into a quarantine situation on Christmas day. Isn’t life a trip? So, perhaps more than the average soldier, I found myself quite grateful for your generosity. Our meal situation is limited, and lunches consist of MREs, which aren’t the most pleasing meals, so the snacks in your care package were a most pleasant surprise. 

I’d like to say I kept myself from forming favoritism towards any particular gift, but I cannot. This knitted scarf around my neck is the perfect shade of green, and I do believe Kuwait winter evenings are chilly enough to don such a treasure. 

The wide expanse of volunteers who help you there at Operation Gratitude must know that when they thank a Soldier for their service, he or she will normally respond in a humble manner. The more elaborate the thanks, the more we just do not know how to respond. Many men and women before me have given more than I have. I know you know that. If I ever said, “You’re welcome,” I don’t even know what that would mean. 

Perhaps it is that you are welcomed into my heart, into a place I keep the memories of my girls’ smiling faces. You are welcomed into the place where my home hearth burns warmly and all my loves are snuggled in close.

I hope you know that you have made a difference. The fruits of your labor are the smiling faces this side of the Atlantic. Your selection of items to send was very thoughtful, and it did not go unnoticed. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart.

Very Respectfully,
SPC J.W.

Smiling US Army Soldier with the contents of an Operation Gratitude Care Package.

Thank you to Bella, Pat, and Diane, Mrs. Dee Dee Paige, Ava, Avery, The Salas Family, Michael, Blaine, all the members and supporters of Operation Gratitude, and everyone else that sent care packages out to our troops deployed. It is very much appreciated!

SPC J.
Saudi Arabia

Handwritten letters in an Operation Gratitude Care Package sent to deployed troops.

Greetings Operation Gratitude volunteers,

My name is TSgt M.P. and wanted to notify you how grateful I was to receive your care package. I am assigned to the 433 CES (Civil Engineering Squadron) as a firefighter, currently deployed to an undisclosed location in Iraq. I am from San Antonio, TX, and as a reservist, and therefore continue to live and work there. Our team is approaching our return home soon and we were all thankful to receive your care package and its contents.

This photo doesn’t do justice to your continued efforts and countless hours of volunteerism. Your organization serves our country as well, by these selfless acts. I have read the letters and will store them along with the letters which my family sent me while deployed. Once again, we appreciate all you do as you also expressed this gratitude for the sacrifice of all service members in your letters.

Blessings to everyone who is part of Operation Gratitude. May God continue to use you for good and bless you all.

Thank you,
V/R,
TSgt M.P.

Deployed US service member holding up handwritten letters of gratitude.

Thank you to all of the volunteers who gave their time and effort to make this beautiful care package. It is a blessing and honor to serve for all of you. Merry Christmas to you and your families!

 – Lt Col S.C., USAF

Handwritten letters, paracord bracelet, and hygiene items in a Holiday care package sent to deployed US troops.

Good Evening/Morning OPGRAT,

Thank you very much for all the support and packages that you’ve been sending over to us. We appreciate all the handwritten letters and beautiful gifts that come in each and every package. Again, thank you very much, and hope you all have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Respectfully, 

1stLt A.R, USMC
Deployed in Kuwait

Deployed US service members holding a US flag.

The following notes did not have accompanying photos, but their words are just as powerful:

Hi, I’m Jo, caregiver to my husband John who has PTSD. I want to thank you for the holiday care package I received. Life as a caregiver is tough, and this year has been exceptionally challenging. My husband has been on edge a lot more, which puts the rest of the house on edge too. Receiving your care package came at just the right time. I was having a tough day. This year because of COVID, we were not able to celebrate with family as usual. Getting a surprise package full of goodies made my day. Thank you, your volunteers, and your sponsors so much. I can’t change the life we have, but knowing there are people out there who understand the challenges helps.

Thank  You,
J.R.

I received your care package today that had a knitted stocking cap and a beanie baby. I wanted to extend my gratitude for the gifts. I am away from my family this year, and these little things mean a lot to me.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

V/R,
T.P.
SSG 36th ID

You will notice that many of these emails refer specifically to the impact of the handwritten letters and Handmade With Love items. Clearly, these are the special treasures that make Operation Gratitude Care Packages so unique and meaningful to the recipients. And YOU can make a difference TODAY by simply taking just a few minutes to write a letter to a service member. 

To close, I want to share just one more email that we received this week, because many of us have sons and daughters in the military, too. I think this note will touch your heart as it did mine:

Merry Christmas! I just got off a video chat with my son who is currently deployed with the USMC. He received a care package from Operation Gratitude. He appreciates the package & the usefulness of the contents. He said he feels cared about.

As a mother, I appreciate that you do what you do. This is the first Christmas we have not been able to spend together, and he is missed. To see his smile and excitement as he opened the box was fantastic. To witness the emotion as he read the cards was special. His father and I both got teary-eyed.

I want you to know that we are thankful for you.

– Cathy

Deployed US troops showing letters of gratitude in their Holiday care packages.

This is exactly what I mean when I say that the true impact of your actions is much broader than you will ever realize. I know there are countless other parents and family members who feel just like his Mom does—comforted, knowing that their loved ones are cared for. 
 
I’m optimistic that the new year will be a better one for all of us—but even if it is another year wrought with challenges, I now know with 100% certainty that nothing is impossible with Operation Gratitude. Together, we will continue to make an impact for all those who serve and their loved ones.
 
I look forward to working with all of you to bridge the civilian-service divide through simple acts of gratitude and the common bond of service that all Americans share.

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