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Paying it Forward: Service Members Give Back to Mark Operation Gratitude’s 18th Birthday

It was a far cry from typical Assembly Day numbers, but volunteers representing a number of different service branches filled Operation Gratitude’s FOB in Chatsworth last week with the same energy and enthusiasm that was felt at large-scale pre-COVID events to mark the organization’s 18th birthday and further the OG mission to have a positive impact on military, first responders, and veterans, and help bridge the civilian-service divide. 

The small groups of volunteers included personnel from the Los Angeles North Army Recruiting Company, Los Angeles Police Department, local Marine Corps Poolees, the 195th Wing of the California Air National Guard, and of course, Operation Gratitude’s Blue Shirts. They gathered on separate days to help assemble a portion of the 18,000 care packages total which will be prepared and shipped this month for troops deployed overseas. 

Operation Gratitude volunteers assembling care packages for deployed troops.

Senior Airman Melanie Nolen is the Public Affairs Officer for the 195th Wing Air National Guard and joined a handful of other airmen Friday- 18 years to the day after Operation Gratitude was first founded- at OG’s Chatsworth facility to pay it forward to fellow service members.

“We understand what it’s like to not be able to come home for holidays or miss our families if we’re somewhere else. We understand even more the value of having that little bit of home and that reminder that somebody does care and somebody is out there thinking of us and making sure that we’re taken care of.”

Nolen adds that the opportunity to volunteer with Operation Gratitude not only meant more troops would receive that reminder that they are remembered and appreciated, but it also allowed the group to do something meaningful together, strengthening their own sense of community while becoming part of another one. 

Air National Guardsmen and women stand with Operation Gratitude volunteers through a solidarity of service.

“As guardsmen, we really only see each other on drill weekends, so it’s nice to see each other outside of work.”

The birthday care packages included snacks, energy and hydration supplements, personal care products, entertainment items, and letters and handmade items sent from people across the country who donate their time and effort to support service members in a tangible way. Nolen says it’s those personal touches that make all the difference to those who are thousands of miles from home.

“I can imagine the joy when this box is opened. The care that’s put into what goes in it- the cards and letters- it’s just a nice breath of fresh air and bit of home that, depending on where they’re deployed, it’s huge.”

Last week’s volunteers left the assembly events feeling fulfilled and inspired to do more. While the grassroots movement that began 18 years ago has seen a tremendous amount of growth and development, Operation Gratitude’s focus remains on forging strong bonds between Americans and their military and first responder heroes through volunteer service projects, acts of gratitude, and meaningful engagements in communities nationwide. Nolen says, for the 195th, it was remarkable to become a part of that history.

Operation Gratitude care packages stacked and ready to ship to deployed troops.

“It’s wonderful to be part of such a monumental event. And to be able to see the volunteers who come back day after day, it’s because of the care that’s put into this organization as a whole that makes it what it is.”

Operation Gratitude provides opportunities for all Americans to make a positive impact in the lives of those who serve through our hands-on volunteerism. Join us in virtual volunteerism and find your way to express gratitude to those who serve.

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