The best part of my job as the CEO of Operation Gratitude is waking up every morning to read emails from the recipients of our Care Packages. In every paragraph, in every sentence, in every word – it is clear our mission is being accomplished.
With each Care Package sent, Operation Gratitude is not only lifting the spirits of our Military and First Responder communities, but we also are giving our volunteers across the country an opportunity to express their appreciation for men and women in uniform both at home and abroad.
It is through this expression of gratitude that an important and meaningful connection is being made – one that enables both the sender and receiver of the items in our Care Packages to recognize and appreciate each other. And these connections, in very simple and tangible ways, are helping to bridge what is commonly referred to as the “civilian-military divide.”
This is particularly true with Operation Gratitude’s Handmade-With-Love program – a grassroots movement across the country that has allowed our army of volunteers nationwide to say “thank you” in a hands-on way. In 2017 alone, they knit more than 68,000 scarves and hats, hand-crafted 138,000 paracord survival bracelets, and wrote more than one million letters of support and appreciation for our Care Packages.
While I have heard a lot of different solutions offered, in my mind, there is no better way to bridge the civilian-military divide and close the gap that exists between those who serve and those who don’t. But don’t take my word for it – read the words of deployed Service Members who have received our Care Packages. These are among my favorite emails that I’ve read since starting as Operation Gratitude’s CEO six months ago:
“I got one of your care packages in the mail along with other members of my company. It’s getting really cold out here in the Middle East on my deployment. With my care package I got several goodies and one thing that really popped out to me was the beige scarf that was handmade. It keeps me warm at night physically and emotionally. I know someone out there cares about us enough to make this for a stranger and now I wear it every day. I get plenty of compliments and questions asking where I bought it from. Lol, I just tell everyone that it was made just for me from Operation Gratitude! Thank you for your support! God bless YOU your friends and family and happy holidays from the Middle East!”
“Thank you so incredibly much for the gorgeous scarf that you handmade for me! I received my Operation Gratitude care package today and was so delighted to see that you left your email address on the tag. Your scarf is beautiful and I can’t wait to wear it when the weather cools down. It is very hot and humid where we are currently but I expect by the time our ship gets home it will definitely come in handy! Your gift has truly touched my heart and has come at such a perfect time. Life on the ship gets very monotonous and we haven’t had a port call in several weeks so morale has been getting low. Knowing that you and all the other volunteers back home are thinking of us makes me so proud to be an American and to be serving overseas… I will wear your gift with pride!!”
“I received a hat today in an Operation Gratitude package and just wanted to send my thanks. Being out to sea so long, away from family and friends, often makes some wonder if they are forgotten about. The entire package and cards inside prove that we aren’t forgotten. I crochet as well and look forward to when I can make pieces to go in packages and help military members feel the way this package and hat made me feel.”
“I am a US Marine currently deployed on the USS ***. I received one of your care packages in the mail earlier this week and it was a delight! I really appreciate all the goodies you sent. Reading through the letters and drawings from the kids is always nice too. My favorite item has to be the scarf! I actually use it to tie around my head and block out the light whenever I try to sleep during the day. I lay there and think of all the joy and love that must have been in that person’s heart when they were knitting it. Thinking of that takes me to a better place. Every item in your box was useful to someone in my platoon. On behalf of all of us, thank you.”
“My name is Chief Warrant Officer Three MJ, and I am an AH-64D Attack Helicopter Pilot. I have a scarf here that you sent as a gift, and I wanted to thank you so very much for your effort in sending a little bit of ‘home’ to us over here in Afghanistan. The holidays are particularly difficult for us so far away from home. I’ve been married for 10 years, and have three children with my wife; I have spent five years of our ten together away from home on deployments. I miss my family terribly. You, however, gave me a moment of grace and peace from combat with your gift that reminded of me of the good things back home.”
“Yesterday we all heard mail call, and only I knew that I had requested the help of ‘Operation Gratitude’… I do not know how to describe the faces and reactions on the Marines and Sailors, when they all started realizing that the care packages had their names on it… I personally almost had tears in my eyes and needed to toughen up. The beanie babies were a hit; they all wanted to see each other’s scarves and wear them; they loved the purpose and meaning of the paracord “survival” bracelets; and of course they began eating of all the candy and peanuts!! It still amazes me how much something like this can affect our Sailors and Marines. Thanks again for all the help and support that you cause each and every single one, of us while we are so far away from home.”
“I can’t even begin to tell you, how happy I am with the care package. You guys/gals went above and beyond, with what you put in my package. I actually got a little emotional, reading the heartfelt and sincere cards. The ones that were handwritten from the kids, really got to me. I have been in the military for 13 years, and it often feels like the public has forgotten about us, or our needs. I can proudly say, that I personally know that isn’t the case. I appreciate everything sincerely, from the bottom of my heart.”
“First I would like to say thank you for the bracelets that you are making and giving to soldiers… I have worn mine every day since getting it four months ago, as it is green, brown, black, and tan and matches my uniform. Well, the other day we were having an issue getting an oil filter off of a generator, because we don’t have an oil filter wrench. I took the bracelet apart and used it to wrap around the oil filter and used a screwdriver almost like a tourniquet to tighten up the cord on the filter and I got the filter off. On the thank you card I got with the bracelet, it said Operation Gratitude would send another if I used it. I was wondering if I could get a few more for myself and some of my soldiers?”
“Words cannot express how thankful we are to have such tremendous support while we are deployed. The goodies are wonderful but the personal letters really bring a piece of home to our ship. Your volunteer service brings warm smiles to the faces of all the Marines and Sailors.”
“I am a pilot in the Navy that is currently deployed with Mobile Tactical Operations Center TWELVE (MTOC-12) overseas in southeast Asia (I apologize, we are not allowed to say exactly where). I received a care package today from OPERATION GRATITUDE and inside included a beautifully crafted handmade blue scarf. Believe it or not, even in the desert, this comes in handy. When I fly, it gets very cold in the flight station and this will come in handy! I have been deployed since March and we won’t be home until October, and even then, this scarf will come in handy, as I am based at NAS Whidbey Island, WA. I want to thank you very much for the very kind gift, and thank you for supporting those of us overseas! It means a lot, and it is a huge morale lift to receive these sorts of gifts from the heart.”
“I just wanted to write you a quick note and tell you thank you SO much for your adorable knit hat and scarf! I recently had to fly somewhere quite a bit colder than where I am stationed and I didn’t bring any cold weather gear, so I grabbed a hat and scarf to help me stay warm! Your thoughtfulness and sacrifice bring happiness to my heart and help while I am away from my beautiful wife and 2 boys. Thank you again and my God bless you for your thoughtfulness and sacrifice!
Bridging the civilian-military divide is achievable, because our country is full of tremendously generous and patriotic citizens – like you – who passionately want to make a difference and express their appreciation and support for those who serve. Many just don’t know how. I’m convinced that hands-on volunteerism is the how.
Kevin M. Schmiegel
Lieutenant Colonel, USMC (Ret.)
Chief Executive Officer, Operation Gratitude