“Hey Big Man,
Here’s a little something from the awesome volunteers at Operation Gratitude. There’s lots of great people who support all that you and your guys are doing!
We can’t wait until you get home, but know that you are doing great things for all of us. We hope this bit of home finds you and your guys in great spirits! Merry Christmas!”
These words begin a letter, handwritten at an Operation Gratitude Assembly Day on December 15, 2018, from Eric and Kelly Soto to their son, Dustin, a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. Dustin was deployed with Lima Company, Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, and would spend Christmas serving our country in Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
Alongside 800 other volunteers at that Assembly Day, Eric and Kelly made a Holiday Care Package for their son. Included in the box were a Paracord Survival Bracelet that Eric made himself, and a laminated picture to remind Dustin that his proud and grateful parents loved him and eagerly awaited his return home. Kelly sealed and addressed the Care Package, while Eric placed it on the pallet along with 5,000 other boxes addressed to deployed Service Members in 35 countries and aboard U.S. Naval vessels on all seven seas.
“Volunteering has brought us much comfort during this trying time of Dustin’s absence,” said Kelly with a warm smile. “Operation Gratitude is our ‘happy place,’ an opportunity to give back and be a part of a supportive community during our son’s deployment.”
Even more honorably, the Sotos have made it their mission to ensure Service Members like Dustin can receive Care Packages from Operation Gratitude. Since November, they have been enthusiastic volunteers at every Assembly Day. On the same day, Eric and Kelly made Dustin’s Care Package, they also made another for Dustin’s friend, Jonathan “Johnny” Gonzalez, who was deployed with the Army in Afghanistan just a couple hours away from Dustin. Whenever possible, the Sotos bring their friends to join in on the fun and purposeful work of an Assembly Day. Like all of the families who choose to dedicate their time to our vital cause, the Sotos and their friends think above and beyond themselves.
Thankfully, Dustin reunited with his family, including his younger brother Nicholas, on April 17, 2019, at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. Shortly after, 2nd Lt Soto left again for further training in Georgia, eager for the opportunity to better himself so he can better serve his country. He intends to join the rest of the Soto family at an Operation Gratitude Assembly Day this summer saying, “I want to pay it forward,” and ensure other Marines experience the life-changing love and support he and the rest of his company received.
Dustin and his family support Service Members, First Responders, Veterans, and other Military and Veteran families they don’t know personally and will likely never meet. Their spirit of charity, service, and sacrifice embody the values that Operation Gratitude stands for, and it has been an honor to welcome them — and all other donors and volunteers — to our family, too.
Service Members like Dustin need our support now more than ever. The Global War on Terrorism is not over, and hundreds of thousands of men and women like 2ndLt Soto will deploy this year in harm’s way to protect the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. As long as they continue to serve us, the Operation Gratitude family will continue to serve them.
Help Us Make Every Minute Count in 2019
Operation Gratitude has made it our mission to Make Every Minute Count in 2019: That means over the next 30 days, we will deliver 43,200 Care packages — one for every minute of the month of June — and we need your help to both fill and ship them.
As our nation’s longest war continues, please join the Sotos and the Operation Gratitude family this summer in support of our mission to Make Every Minute Count for our nation’s heroes. Stay tuned, and visit our website to learn about more volunteer opportunities — we are coming soon to a city near you!