A Simple “Thank You” with a Lasting Impact

The following is a Guest Blog Post from Renee Swetlik:

Homan Elementary SchoolIt started as a simple thank you…And turned into a learning experience Homan Elementary School students will never forget.

In class this past January, Homan students talked about freedom and what it means to them. As the school librarian, I created a Letter to a Hero center in the library, and the students rose to the challenge by writing to Wounded Warrior Heroes who have served our country in the U.S. Military. Our goal: to say “thank you” and brighten their day, if only for a moment.

Over 500 letters were sent to Operation Gratitude for their Wounded Warrior Care Packages.

In February, we received a letter from Carolyn Blashek, President of Operation Gratitude. In her letter she stated: “The recipients of your generosity will remember your kindness forever.”

Even then, we did not truly understand just what an impact these letters make!

Soon after, we were thrilled, honored and very humbled to receive an email response from Gunnery Sergeant P. Ernesto Aquino. Here is an excerpt:

“I am a U.S. Marine wounded warrior who received an ‘Operation Gratitude’ care package this week while participating in the 2014 Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Trials held at Camp Pendleton, California. I am competing in cycling, swimming and air rifle shooting. In the care package I received a letter from Wyatt. I wanted to reach out to you since your name and information was on the letter so that you may reach out to Wyatt and thank him for me. Please tell him that he is my ‘Hero’.”

We were so excited to hear from someone who received one of our letters! We never Medalsexpected it. Several e-mails were exchanged with GySgt. Aquino. We wished him success at the Wounded Warrior Trials and he shared pictures of his medals (one gold, one silver and two bronze). He even looked up Homan Elementary School’s phone number and called us from California one afternoon.

In April, we sent Gunny Aquino a banner we made congratulating him on all his hard work and perseverance. Each student signed their first name and we mailed it out to California.

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What happened next still brings tears to my eyes. On May 7th we received a letter from GySgt. Aquino. Here are some excerpts from that letter:

“For two weeks, we withstand stress, frustration, fatigue and pain!! The trials are a way to brighten our spirits. Our Motto is the Latin phrase ‘Etiam in Pugna’ which means ‘Still in the Fight’. Not ‘in the fight’ as in war with foreign enemies; but the ‘fight’ within ourselves to get better and continue the legacy of American Soldiers, defenders of our country and our principles.

The trials mean a lot to me…. In the heat of competition winning a medal is the ultimate victory over stress, frustration, fatigue and pain.

I am sending you my gold medal…. It was my personal ultimate victory and I want you to have it.

A Wounded Warriors Gift to Homan ElementaryI cannot put into words the affect the gold medal had, and continues to have, on our school community. Once the students had the opportunity to hold the medal, they wrote down one word to describe GySgt. Aquino and how they felt when they held the medal.

Our story was featured in the local newspaper.

At the end of May, we sent Gunny Aquino our letters describing how we felt when we held the medal. We also framed the medal and it now hangs in a place of honor in our library, serving as a reminder to always be kind and never give up! Framed Medal

The story continues. In September, Gunny Aquino once again participated in the Marine Corps Warrior Games held in Colorado. He made a special shout out video to our school that was posted online. The kids were so honored and thrilled!

Once again, we e-mailed back and forth and cheered Gunny Aquino on! He won three gold and two silver medals! The Marine Corps forwarded links to me so that the students and I could watch the Opening Ceremony, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball. What an amazing, humbling, awesome experience! The students truly understand now what it means to be a “wounded warrior.”

During the games, I was contacted by the Marine Corps and interviewed via Skype. I was shocked. Why? We wrote letters, sent encouragement, etc., but that is nothing compared to what these men and women are going through. However, those letters and words of encouragement mean the world to these amazing men and women. I found out when I watched the video interview (“A Warrior’s Gift of Gold,” linked below) that Gunny Aquino kept his letter on his pillow during the games!

At the conclusion of the Warrior Games, Homan held a “Wear Red” day to show our support of Gunny Aquino and all his brothers and sisters in arms.

The story will not end there. We plan on keeping in touch with Gunny Aquino and continuing to support him, his family, and his brothers and sisters in arms as they all continue in their fight to heal. He has touched our lives in so many positive ways: the power of kindness is amazing, NEVER give up, and saying a simple “thank you” can make A Wounded Warrior's Gift to Homan Elementarya huge difference to somebody.

We also plan on writing more letters to send to Operation Gratitude. Our story is just one example of the effect these letters have on our military personnel.

Please take the time to write a personal message of encouragement, support and thanks to our Service Members, Wounded Warriors and Veterans.

Whatever you feel called to do, please do it! I cannot put into words how much these acts of kindness mean to the men and women who serve or have served our country.

Humbly,
Mrs. Renee Swetlik
Librarian, Homan Elementary School

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#SayThanks to Troops, Veterans and Military Families

What do you want to say to our nation’s service members and veterans?

What message do you want to relay to their families at home?

Now is your chance — capture your gratitude in a photo and we will help you share it!

As we approach Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, you can help us remind our nation’s deployed troops, veterans and military families of our support with simple, visual messages of heartfelt thanks like these…

SayThanks2 Collage

Send us photos with your own personal message of encouragement, support and thanks. We will post the images we receive on our social media sites -- Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter – using the hashtag #SayThanks AND we will send them in our care packages, too!

The images can be “selfies” of individuals; group, family or workplace photos, or even photos of drawings kids have made — it’s up to YOU! (Check out some of the photos we’ve received so far: http://bit.ly/SayThanksPhotoAlbum )

Want to join us? Have fun, be creative and send us your pictures! SayThanks5

Tips & Suggestions
~Keep your message upbeat and positive.

~Remember our troops and veterans represent the full spectrum of political opinions. Please avoid divisive statements.
~Make sure your message is legible in the photo and use bigger signs for larger groups of people.
~Ask friends, family members and co-workers to send photos, too!

*Upload your photos at our “Say Thanks” website:
http://signup.operationgratitude.com/SayThanks

(*Note: Sending images grants Operation Gratitude permission to send them in Operation Gratitude care packages and post them online via Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and/or Facebook.)

Thank you!

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A Nationwide Network of Volunteers

Our job is to support them

At Operation Gratitude, we receive emails from across the country every day asking how people can get involved in their own communities:

“I’m interested in learning more about ways my family can be involved helping military veterans and families in our area…” -A.S., Maryland

“I have never served in the Armed Forces, however I have friends who have and I would like to do my part to thank those who have served and those who are currently serving…” -M.R., California

“I would like to volunteer my time to your organization…” -B.D., Indiana

Our thanks to all who have spoken up and offered to do more for our cause. We have listened and have launched a major new initiative for Operation Gratitude: A nationwide volunteer network of Ambassadors to serve our cause.

Our Ambassadors will: 

  • Represent Operation Gratitude at local community gatherings
  • Encourage and guide volunteer activities in their hometowns
  • Be local resources to individuals, groups, companies, community officials and media
  • Plan and implement letter writing campaigns, product donation drives, fundraisers and other activities
  • Participate as members of a national advisory group to suggest ideas, thoughts and feedback as new programs are developed
  • And much more

If you are interested in participating as an Operation Gratitude Ambassador in your area, please sign up to receive more information: https://www.operationgratitude.com/go/ambassadors/

Thank you for your continued support and dedication to our cause. 

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Today and every day, we say “Thank you”

Today is the day we remember the price that was paid for our freedom.

Some of the brave men who took part in the Battle of Normandy are still with us. We can never say “Thank you” enough.

OperationGratitude.com

Over the years Operation Gratitude has been privileged to send care packages to thousands of veterans, including those from the Greatest Generation making a trip with the Honor Flight Network to see the National World War II Memorial and other monuments in Washington, D.C. 

Last week we received an email message from one of Honor Flight JS2the recipients (pictured here meeting Senator Bob Dole):

“Operation Gratitude: I appreciate the Gratitude Box. The GOODIES were well received. You provided so much that I shared some with our Veterans Home here in KY. Your publication indicates that you are interested and dedicated to helping all Veterans. Looks like you are a fun group. God Bless you all. J.S. QM3/C 1944-1946 USS Kaskaskia”

We want veterans from all eras to know their service has not been forgotten. Please allow our work to continue by joining our efforts to thank and support them.

Every care package counts – make a donation today.

THANK YOU!

Important — Please note: We accept care package requests from and work directly with VA hospitals, Veterans nursing homes, official Veterans groups, and other Veteran support organizations. We are unable to honor individual requests. To request Veterans Care Packages, Program/Activity Directors and Representatives from Veterans groups should contact Operation Gratitude at OpGratVet@aol.com.

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Have You Said “Thank you” Lately?

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5 Simple Ways You Can Join Operation Gratitude to Say “Thank you” to Troops and Veterans:

1. Organize a Collection Drive of “Wish List” items.

2. Round up unwanted, used cell phones for recycling.

3. Knit or crochet gifts of love for the Scarves for Troops Program.

4. Write notes of thanks to deployed troops and veterans.

5. Make a Financial Donation – every $15 sends another care package!

Thank you for your generous support! Together we can make a difference in the Military Community!

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock. Used with permission.)

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“…we are forever indebted…” — Memorial Day 2014

1351052B“We owe this freedom of choice and action to those men and women in uniform who have served this nation and its interests in time of need. In particular, we are forever indebted to those who have given their lives that we might be free.” –President Ronald Reagan, May 26, 1983

This Memorial Day and every day, we honor our nation’s fallen loved ones by paying tribute to their memory and to those who carry on our Military’s tradition and greatness.

We are grateful for the hundreds of people who spent part of their Memorial Day weekend volunteering with us, assembling Operation Gratitude care packages filled with goodies, thanks and love! (Photos are posted here: May 24 — Volunteer Day)

As you enjoy your holiday weekend, please remember the reason we celebrate Memorial Day…and keep our currently deployed troops and their families in your thoughts and prayers.

Photo caption: The “defensor fortis” patch stands out against the black beret of Senior Master Sgt. Roelma Wood, 51st Security Forces Squadron, during the Police Week retreat ceremony at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, May 16, 2014. “Defensor fortis” is Latin for “defenders of the force.” (U.S. Air Force photo Airman 1st Class Ashley J. Thum. Used with permission.)

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A New Program is Born!

Operation Gratitude had the distinct honor of inaugurating its “New Recruit Care Package photo 5Program” at the United States Naval Academy on May 16, 2014.  The OpGrat team of Marty & Rick Martin (CA) and Brigid and Dan O’Neill (NY) greeted and presented “New Recruit” Care Packages to each of the more than 1,000 members of the Class of 2014, our country’s newest Naval and Marine Corps Officers. 

The following is Marty Martin’s recap of the day:

We all respect the rigorous academic and physical regiment that each Midshipman endures, but what is most profound is their patriotic commitment to our country.  They are so humble, polite, appreciative…and adorable! It was an honor to be with them and to represent Operation Gratitude at this photo 1event. CDR Dave Shaffer, (pictured with Marty at left) Director of Special Events, enthusiastically supported our involvement at the Academy. He and his team of Lieutenants staged the Care Packages for distribution and were incredibly warm and hospitable the entire day.  Truly a bonus for the Martins and the O’Neills! 

 The Care Packages included a letter of introduction assuring the new officers that we will support them from Day 1 throughout their careers and beyond, and that we will be with them during each deployment, sending Care Packages (prepared with love from the American people) to each Sailor or Marine under their command.

We were treated to a tour of the Naval Academy with all its tradition and beauty. It was an all-around wonderful experience and we are thrilled to have had the honor of launching the New Recruit program. We can all be so proud, as Americans, that we truly have the most remarkable military in the world! 20140518_124555B

On the other side of the country during the same weekend, local Operation Gratitude volunteers at LAX welcomed home our most senior and honored Military members: World War II Veterans returning from Washington DC, where they visited the WWII Memorial and other monuments as part of an Honor Flight trip.

Inspired by our motto, “It is Never Too Late to say Thank You,” the volunteers handed out care packages and hugs 20140518_122055Bto thirty very brave and humble heroes, including two Tuskegee Airmen. (See more photos here: Cheers, Hugs & Operation Gratitude.)

The weekend was a beautiful illustration of Operation Gratitude’s commitment to our Military community–from the day they step forward in service, and throughout their lives.

Please join Operation Gratitude as we express our thanks and support to our heroes.

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