New Recruit Care Packages Thank Troops From Day One

Operation Gratitude
Operation Gratitude is excited to announce the launch of its “New Recruit” Care Package program to thank our newest members of the Military for stepping forward and devoting the next several years of their lives in service to our nation. Upon Graduation from Boot Camp, each New Recruit is handed a unique package of goodies from Operation Gratitude in a new custom-designed box.

The New Recruit Care Package Program is already in full swing at both Marine Corps Recruiting Depots in San Diego and Parris Island,  and at the Navy’s Great Lakes Recruit Training Command in Illinois.  The organization hopes to bring the Army and Air Force centers on board in 2015.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive: 

“We are excited and honored to start this program at Recruit Training Command. Operation Gratitude lets the nation’s newest Sailors know that someone is always thinking about them. These care packages show the Sailors that they are part of Operation Gratitudethe Navy family and the country is proud of them for their decision to serve.” –Capt. Doug Pfeifle (pictured here), commanding officer of Recruit Training Command (RTC) in Great Lakes, IL.

“Greetings! I am a Private who just recently graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. On the last week of boot camp, each of us received one of your packages, and I wanted to let you know that they were very much appreciated. Receiving those packages helped make us feel human again, and that reminder of our nation’s support boosted our morale.  Thank you very much for your generosity. Semper Fidelis.” –Pvt K.J.

“I am a new Marine Mom. My son graduated MCRD as a Private on Nov 7. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the Care Package you sent him. We were not allowed to send things to him so him receiving this care package, I know made his day. I had tears in my eyes reading your mission statement. Thank you, Thank you! He wore the knitted beanie all the way home.” –M.B.H., Texas

20141212_153102In addition to an assortment of snacks, hygiene, entertainment and hand-made items, each Care Package includes a “Loved One Medallion,” a specially designed Operation Gratitude keepsake for the New Recruit to share with a special family member or friend. The Medallion thanks loved ones for their support and lets them know that the American people stand “hand in hand” with them.

“We hope the recruits get two things from receiving these packages,” said Angel Cuevas, Director of Operations for Operation Gratitude. “First, we hope it lifts their morale. Second, we want them to know someone, somewhere cares. This is the generosity of the American public. We are supporting their mission wherever it takes them, and we don’t want them to be alone.”

The distribution of all New Recruit Care Packages is handled directly with the Military training centers. Individual requests for our regular care packages to deployed troops can still be made through the Operation Gratitude website.

Just as with all of our care package programs, every American can support the New Recruit Packages by organizing collection drives, writing letters, hand-crafting scarves, hats and bracelets, or contributing financially. For more information, please visit: How You Can Help

Congratulations and many thanks to all our New Recruits and their Loved Ones!

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An Award-Winning Salute…with Gingerbread!

Gingerbread_closeup (1280x853)Yes, it’s true — this Soldier and the care package before him are made out of gingerbread (and other edibles)!

Jennifer Elmore’s amazing “A Soldier’s Christmas” is among the Top-10 ribbon winners of the 22nd Annual National Gingerbread House competition.

As the daughter of a now-retired two-star U.S. Army general, Jennifer knows all about military Gingerbread_MikeandJenniferfamilies and her work is a tribute to them.

“I hope in some small way this honors the sacrifices service members and their families make for us every day, but especially at this time of year,” she says. 

We are very grateful that Jennifer (pictured here with her husband, Mike) chose to use her talents to highlight Operation Gratitude’s work. Look carefully at the photo up top and you can see Operation Gratitude’s logo on the gingerbread care package!

Jennifer is a Wells Fargo team member, and you can read more about her special creation in the company’s recent blog post:

Saluting service members’ sacrifices — in gingerbread!

The winning gingerbread entries are on display at The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina through January 1.

(Photos courtesy of Wells Fargo.)

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How Operation Gratitude Shaped My Future

A Guest Post from long-time supporter Kelsey “Archie” Evans:

I’ve been “All-American” pro-military for as long as I can remember. There was a patriotic feeling that swelled inside me after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. That day we 12 15 12 assemblydaywere truly the United States of America. And then we were at war. I remember through my high school career hearing the number of deaths in Iraq/Afghanistan on the news every night; my heart stirred with sadness, and also with love and gratitude. I wanted to help and support the troops. Operation Gratitude helped me discover how to make that possible.

The first time I walked into the Van Nuys Armory I felt immediately welcomed and strangely at home.

My first few Assembly Days were spent at the beginning of the assembly line making boxes, all the way through to the end, tossing donated Halloween candy in. Little did I know, I had a bigger future here, more than just Halloween candy and boxes.

Operation Gratitude is my go-to place to feel “All-American.” Our “Hard Corps” volunteers work every day and bestow a warm welcome upon everyone they greet. Two of our senior “Hard Corps” volunteers, Barbara “Wildcat” Watson and “Diamond” Lil Bauer, can put a smile on anyone’s face. Their commitment and the amount of hard work they do puts most of us to shame.

I volunteered at the armory for three years and there was never a dull day. During my time at Operation Gratitude, I never questioned if I was making a difference, I knew that I was.
It was the best work I’d done in my whole life, fulfilling what felt like my dream job. Being part of the production, I felt like I finally had identity and purpose. Carolyn Blashek’s goal was my goal; to support and thank members of our military.

24nov11nAs a team member at the Armory, your role wasn’t simply the title you carried; as Carolyn calls it “Semper Gumby,” ‘Always Flexible.’ I conducted the Battalion Buddy and Paracord programs, but that’s not all. From unloading tons, literally, of Halloween candy off mail trucks to sorting CDs; from driving the forklift around to orchestrating the Battalion Buddy package assembly, the duties were various, yet all were related to keep the Armory in full swing. I am blessed to have worked with some of the best and most patriotic Americans in the world.

“You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have really lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.”–Henry Drummond.

Looking back, a majority of moments where I felt most alive took place at the Armory fulfilling the charity’s mission: to put a smile on a service member’s face.
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In November of 2012, Carolyn introduced me to a handsome grunt from 3rd Battalion 1st Marines. Six short months later, I married my hero and best friend, Cpl Jon Evans. Entering the Camp Pendleton community was an exciting new chapter, yet there is no preparation for becoming a military wife. Too few expressions exist that can translate this reality; but ‘Wife’ is the best role in the Marine Corps. I want to thank my Operation Gratitude family for their support and love.

On December 7, 2013, Operation Gratitude made history sending the One Millionth care package. On that celebratory day, I fulfilled my most prominent role at the armory as 7dec13_nCarolyn’s right hand. I met dignitaries, celebrities and honored veterans whom most people won’t meet in their lifetime.

From my experience at Operation Gratitude, emerged a personal sense of duty to make sure all active duty service members and veterans know they are appreciated and cared for.

There can’t ever be enough support for our active duty military and wounded warriors, and it is never too late to say “thank you” to our veterans. Our troops are trained to go to war, but are they trained to come home? The fact that our nation’s veterans, those who committed their life in service of our country, ensuring our freedoms and luxuries, are in the homeless and suicide statistics is perturbing. There is a record number of homeless veterans, and the veteran suicide rate is alarmingly high.IMG_5800B

I have decided to become a Military social worker/PTSD counselor. Our veterans and fallen heroes sacrificed and died for me, so I’ll live for them. Dedicating my life to them is how I can best repay the debt I owe them and those who have gone before.

As an Operation Gratitude Ambassador and grateful American, I will continue the organization’s important mission. Please join me as we celebrate our veterans and active duty service members every day of the year.

 

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Veterans Day 2014

On Veterans Day, we pause to thank all those who have served our country in times of war and times of peace.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” –President Harry S. Truman

Thank you to all of our nation’s Veterans — you have, indeed, earned our undying gratitude. Happy Veterans Day!

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Learn more about how we honor and support Veterans throughout the year:

Thanking Veterans EVERY Day

Thanking Veterans for Their Service

Join Us to #SayThanks

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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.

Banner 2B
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!

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.

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

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