For two weeks leading to 9/11 our team adapted to COVID-19 and served alongside small groups of volunteers to assemble 20,000 Care Packages for Deployed Troops and First Responders.
Here are a few reflections about 9/11, and what we did last week to honor those who serve:
Nineteen years ago on 9.11.2001, I was the Operations Officer in a Marine Artillery Battalion at Camp Lejeune, NC. I remember feeling two things that day.
First, as a father of three boys who were 6, 5, and 1-year-old at the time, I felt scared — scared for them and scared for millions of families like ours. Second, I felt helpless — helpless as I stood next to several other Marines watching first responders in NYC and at the Pentagon fight the fires and the chaos — and helpless as I watched and learned about so many of them losing their lives in the line of duty.
I felt scared and helpless because there was nothing I could do at that moment.
On September 10th and 11th of this year, I was given the opportunity to do something that I couldn’t do 19 years ago — honor the service of 8,831 First Responders in Washington DC, New York City, Arlington VA, and Shanksville, PA, as well as every Firefighter and EMT at the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, the agency with the two foam trucks that extinguished the fires at the Pentagon.
At a time when our Deployed Service Members and First Responders need our support more than ever, Operation Gratitude took action to remember the fallen and to ensure our men and women in uniform know that we, as a grateful nation, will never forget.
On 9/11 and over the past four days, we assembled 20,000 Care Packages in Washington DC and at our HQ in Los Angeles then delivered them to 12,000 deployed service members in harm’s way and in-person to 8,800 heroes in departments that were among the first to respond to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville where Flight 93 crashed 19 years ago.
I actually shook hands and looked in the eyes of firefighters who fought tirelessly to save lives and who stood on the roof of the Pentagon that fateful day. They continue to serve their communities and to honor the memories of their fallen brothers and sisters.
In a few days, emails from the recipients of our 9/11 Care Packages will pour in, like this email from an Airman who received one last year:
“To all who work or volunteer with Operation Gratitude,
My name is John and I’m in the Air Force, serving with my fellow Americans in the Middle East. Today is 9/11/2019, 18 years after the attack on our country changed the world as we know it. We’re missing our families and friends but know our work here matters to the world and for the safety of our nation. We received your care packages today- and the joy it brought to the faces of everyone I’m deployed with was just amazing. The letters of love brought tears to peoples’ eyes and knowing they’re remembered and cared for is a gift that is priceless to the soul.
Today was my daughter’s first day of preschool, and I was really in a low spot just missing her and all the special moments we won’t get to share this year because I’m away. This care package really lifted me up. Thank you so much, and if I could hug you all I would.
It’s an honor to serve the greatest people in the world, people like you!”
John B., USAF, Qatar
In the coming weeks, when we share notes that we receive from servicemen and women like John, I want you to consider the true impact we are making as an organization, together, with you.
I want you to know, it’s not just a care package… It is an expression of deep appreciation from Americans everywhere, represented by more than one million OG volunteers in all 50 states and DC.
I want you to know, it’s not just a care package… It is a “gift that is priceless to the soul.” It lifts spirits and brings joy, strength, and resolve to those who serve our nation with honor, courage, and commitment.
I want you to know, it’s not just a care package… It is the start of a conversation that leads to a meaningful connection.
I want you to know, it’s not just a care package… It is an opportunity to go beyond saying “thank you for your service” and build understanding, empathy, and ultimately bridges between civilians and our military, veterans, and first responders.
Imagine what will happen if everyone reading this email realizes it’s not just a care package and they, too, go a step further to make meaningful connections with those who serve. Imagine the impact we could make in communities across the country.
I know what will happen because I have seen it firsthand, over and over again, at more than 200 service projects, community events, and at in-person deliveries of our Care Packages all over the country. I saw the impact, and I saw what it looks like to build bridges and strengthen communities when you bring people from all walks of life together.
I say all of this to you in the context of what I was honored to be part of last week in our nation’s capital. I assembled care packages alongside Army Veteran Jenine Melton — daughter to Gold Star Mom, Janice Chance, and sister to Marine Corps Captain, Jesse Melton, who was killed in action that very day 12 years ago on September 9, 2008, in Afghanistan.
I met Captain Justin Tirelli from Arlington County Fire Department who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon. As a “rookie,” it was the first time he drove the ladder truck. Their station was one of the first to respond and they were repelled several times by the intensity of the flames but never gave up.
I also spent a few hours with Assistant Chief Steve Gervis from Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority who recalled that day 19 years ago as a young firefighter on the rooftop of the Pentagon.
Operation Gratitude commemorated the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice by actively serving those who serve. We must never forget, and we must honor the memories of the fallen by doing everything we can to bridge divides and unite communities and our nation.