Corporate and Civic Leaders Join Forces with Military, Veteran, and First Responder

Advocates to Bridge the Civilian-Service Divide

LOS ANGELES, CA (September 11, 2018) – Operation Gratitude announced the launch of The BRIDGE CouncilTM today on the 17th anniversary of our nation’s longest war. The Council will bridge the civilian-service divide through a grassroots movement focused on volunteerism, gratitude, and hands-on engagement in communities across America.

Ensuring that U.S. Service Members, First Responders and their families are and feel supported comes at a critical time in our nation’s history, as American civilians are less personally connected to military service than ever before. According to the Department of Defense, the number of young adults with parents who have served in the military has dropped from 40% in 1995 to 15% today, and less than one percent of the U.S. population currently serves in the armed forces.

“Over the past decade, much attention has been paid to the widening civilian-military divide in our country. We see a similar gap developing between the general public and the 2.3 million police and firefighters also serving in harm’s way,” said retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Schmiegel, CEO of Operation Gratitude. “Now is the time to build meaningful connections and bridge the divide that exists between those who serve in uniform, and grateful Americans everywhere who want to express their support.”

The BRIDGE CouncilTM will bring together corporate and civic leaders with Military, Veteran, and First Responder advocates to:

  • Engage more than 1 million Americans each year in hands-on volunteer opportunities through employee and community action events;
  • Hold more than 10,000 volunteer service projects across the country annually;
  • Deliver more than 350,000 care packages annually to Deployed Troops, New Recruit Graduates, Veterans, Military Families and First Responders;
  • Identify resources to respond to future large-scale military deployments or natural disasters.

“Mars is proud to be a longtime partner to the U.S. Military. We have been honored to provide our beloved treats and a sweet taste of home to soldiers deployed overseas for more than 75 years,” said Tim LeBel, President, Sales for Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S. “We are excited to further our work with Operation Gratitude and be part of a large-scale solution to support our Service Members, further demonstrating the importance of treating U.S. Service Members, Veterans, and First Responders.”

Founding Members of The BRIDGE CouncilTM include:

● The American Legion, New Jersey – Bob Looby, Chairman, Employment, Homeless & Education Committee and Past State Commander
● CVS Health – David Casey, Vice President, Workforce Strategies and Chief Diversity Officer
● Diamond Wipes International, Inc., Eve Yen, Founder and Chief Executive Officer
● Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits – Alex Conison, Brand Manager – Josh Cellars
● Gorilla Glue – Rob Lackman, Chief Operations Officer
● Hasbro – Jennifer Huggins, Armed Forces Liaison
● Honor Flight Nevada – Jon Yuspa, Founder and CEO
● Mars Wrigley Confectionery, U.S. – Tim LeBel, President of Sales
● Operation Gratitude – Kevin Schmiegel, Lieutenant Colonel, USMC (Ret.), CEO
● Target Corporation – John C. Campbell, Divisional Planning, Merchandising
● Team Kids – Julie Hudash, Founder and CEO
● Washington D.C. Police Foundation – Assistant Chief Patrick A. Burke (Ret.), Executive Director

Over the past 15 years, Operation Gratitude has worked with corporate partners and civic groups to connect more than 500,000 volunteers across the country with 2.1 million care package recipients deployed overseas and here at home. Building on those connections and expressions of gratitude, The BRIDGE CouncilTM will expand the grassroots movement started a decade and a half ago by bringing communities together through hands-on volunteerism and direct interactions.

“The civilian-service divide will not be resolved in a conference room or from a podium in Washington D.C.,” said Lieutenant Colonel Schmiegel. “It will be bridged through hands-on volunteerism, expressions of gratitude, and meaningful engagements in thousands of communities across America.  Our foundation for bridging the divide is established, and we welcome additional companies and civic groups to join this growing movement.”

Demonstrating that actions speak louder than words in bridging the divide, Operation Gratitude volunteers and members of The BRIDGE CouncilTM will deliver care packages in communities across the country on September 11th including Fullerton, CA and Minneapolis, MN; as well as Jacksonville, FL in the wake of the tragedy there.


The BRIDGE CouncilTM [Bridging the Divide through Gratitude and Engagement] is made up of corporate and civic leaders, along with Military, Veteran, and First Responder advocates, working together to bridge the civilian-service divide with a grassroots movement focused on volunteerism, gratitude, and hands-on engagement. Together, Council members will engage 1 million Americans at more than 10,000 volunteer service projects and community events across the country each year, resulting in the delivery of more than 350,000 Care Packages to our nation’s Heroes annually. Through meaningful connections in thousands of communities nationwide, the Council will bridge the divide between grateful Americans and the men and women in uniform who serve and protect them.

Operation Gratitude has sent more than 2.1 Million of its signature Care Packages to First Responders, New Recruits, Veterans and to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed overseas and their families waiting at home. Each package is filled with food, entertainment, hygiene and hand-made items, as well as personal letters of support written by grateful Americans. The non-profit organization’s mission is to lift the spirits and meet the evolving needs of the Military and First Responder communities, and to provide volunteer opportunities for Americans to express their appreciation to all who serve.