Jared’s Journey – From Airman to Ambassador

This weekly briefing is about one’s volunteer’s journey from Airman to Ambassador. Jared Clemens embraced Operation Gratitude’s mission and brought together the community of San Antonio through a common bond of service and simple acts of gratitude. When I met Jared outside Fire Station #1 in “Military City USA” on November 28, 2018, I saw and understood the true potential of our volunteer Ambassador program for the very first time. 

What Jared did that day was truly remarkable. He single-handedly organized the delivery of 3,000 of our signature red care pouches to every police officer, firefighter, and EMT in the San Antonio Police and Fire Departments. He organized a volunteer task force made up of 30 civilians, fellow Airmen, and military spouses from Lackland Air Force Base. He broke them up into several civilian-military teams, jumped into vehicles, and over a 12-hour period delivered the care pouches to dozens of individual precincts and stations across the greater San Antonio area.

Operation Gratitude volunteers standing with a firefighter.
Operation Gratitude volunteers standing with firefighters.
Volunteer shaking hands with firefighter.

Jared did more than just deliver care packages and say “thank you for your service” with the families who joined him that day. He created understanding and empathy about the service of first responders and the sacrifices they make every day for our communities. He bridged the civilian-service divide. 

I was honored to join Jared and Army Veteran Kevin Carter at two of those deliveries to first responders at SAPD Headquarters and Fire Station 1, and I was struck by two things. First, I was moved by the elation expressed by first responders when they heard about the handcrafted paracord bracelets and the letters of appreciation written by one million volunteers nationwide. And second, I realized how military, veterans, and their families can build bridges between civilians and first responders in communities where Operation Gratitude aims to close divides. 

In the first few weeks of 2021, I have seen this play out time and again at Operation Gratitude service projects. Veterans joined our efforts to support the Metropolitan Police Department and 25,000 National Guardsmen in Washington DC, as well as our first assembly day and deliveries to NYPD. Not only did three Marine Veterans and an Army spouse from Team OG lead these community-building efforts, but veterans who currently serve in the NYPD also joined our movement as volunteers

Volunteers gather to build Operation Gratitude Care Packages.
Veterans from American Legion Post 460 with Team OG at NYPD HQ – New York, 2021

Make no mistake about it — Operation Gratitude is going to forge strong bonds between those who serve and the citizens they protect in hundreds of communities in the coming years. We are going to bridge divides through a grassroots movement that gives Americans, in and out of uniform, opportunities to serve together, shoulder to shoulder, in cities where they live, work, and raise their families. 

Just imagine if our nation’s veterans, who have served themselves and are looking for opportunities to serve again, participate in and lead our service projects. They can play a vital role in helping us achieve our mission, and in the process, unite our country and our communities. 

To be honest, it isn’t difficult to imagine, if you stop and think about what Jared Clemens did in San Antonio two years ago and continued to do repeatedly during his tour of duty there. In addition to expressing appreciation to every first responder in November 2018, Jared led multiple service projects and deliveries for Operation Gratitude as one of our first volunteer Ambassadors.

His service out of uniform — in an OG emblazoned red t-shirt — included deliveries of our care packages for three consecutive years to homeless and retired veterans on numerous holidays and Veterans Day. Jared also helped organize small-scale Operation Gratitude service projects where civilians and military families joined forces to support our nation’s newest Airmen graduating from Boot Camp every week at Lackland AFB.

Operation Gratitude volunteers gather to assemble care packages for military and first responders.
Operation Gratitude volunteers gather to assemble care packages for military and first responders.
Operation Gratitude volunteers gather to deliver care packages to veterans.

Just look at the faces in these photos and you will realize that Jared truly lives and breathes our ethos, and he has helped us bridge the civilian-service divide with his actions. Think about the understanding and empathy he created when he brought military and civilian volunteers together to serve veterans in nursing homes, hospitals, and homeless shelters like Blue Skies of Texas, the Army Residence Community, San Antonio Medical Center, Audie Murphy VA Hospital, and American GI Forum.

Jared’s journey from Airman to Ambassador is one that continues after his recent transition from enlisted to officer ranks. As a newly promoted Lieutenant, Jared and his family moved to Grovetown, GA where he has already inspired dozens of civilian and military neighbors to come together in service of 2,000 local first responders. 

Just the Beginning

For Operation Gratitude, and for Jared, this is just the beginning. Stay tuned in to see Jared and his new corps of volunteers in Georgia join forces to assemble and deliver care packages to police officers, firefighters, and EMTs in both Augusta and Columbia County. 

It can be just the beginning for YOU, too, if you want to get more involved. Please visit our virtual volunteerism page and find out how you can make an impact in your own community.

Click to join in virtual volunteerism.

This is just the beginning!

SHAREShare on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter


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.