It’s official! We celebrated our historic One Millionth Care Package on Saturday, December 7, when it rolled off the assembly line to the cheers of thousands of volunteers, supporters, Military Brass, Elected Officials and Hollywood Celebrities. Adding to the excitement was the reveal of the special gift for the recipient of the milestone package: A Ford F-150 Pickup Truck donated by 5-hour ENERGY®.
Under a large tent adjacent to the California Army National Guard Armory, Event Emcees Fritz Coleman, Andy Chanley and Joe Garner welcomed active duty Service Members and Military Veterans throughout the day. Many of these men and women were past recipients of Operation Gratitude care packages, and wore specially designed pins saying “I Serve” or “I Served.” Three previous Operation Gratitude Milestone Package recipients were in attendance: Sgt. Shaun Gallagher (300,000th package); Sgt. Eric Rodriguez (750,000th package) and Sgt. Samuel Mancilla (800,000th package).
Six World War II Veterans were honored guests, including Lt. Colonel Bob Friend, a Tuskegee Airman, and Bea Cohen, the oldest living female World War II Veteran at 103- years-old.
To the delight of their fans, celebrities Leah Remini, Joe Mantegna, Stelio Savante, Bill Jones, Kevyn Major Howard and cast members from the new TV show, Enlisted, joined the festivities, as did Dodgers great Al “The Bull” Ferrara, and radio host and author, Michael Reagan.
Making a very popular debut as the keepsake item of the Event was the “Gratitude Journal,” a beautiful 148-page retrospective, chronicling Operation Gratitude from its humble beginnings to its One Millionth Package celebration. This classic “cocktail table-style” Tribute Book will be available to order online this week.
Two Assembly Lines were in full swing, producing 3,000 care packages in just two hours. In addition, the activities included Military and First Responder Booths, fun games with prizes for young children, a letter writing area with custom printed holiday cards for the troops, a paracord bracelet workshop, and a photo booth.
Attendees were served a complimentary lunch courtesy of several community organizations and local businesses. Adding a holiday touch, Santa Claus was on hand giving out gifts to all the children.
“This is an extraordinary day in the life of Operation Gratitude,” said Penny Alfonso, Volunteer and Community Service Coordinator. “I was at the very first Assembly Day in 2003 and it is breathtaking to witness this accomplishment by caring and patriotic Americans all across the country, whose goal is to say ‘Thank You’ to our Military.”
The backdrop to the entire Event was the elegant and moving replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, presented by American Veterans Traveling Tribute. A special memorial program in front of The Wall opened with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem by the St. Francis de Sales Choir, and an inspirational invocation by Captain Brenda Threatt, a chaplain with the California State Military Reserve. Veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, joined Gold and Blue Star Mothers and War Dog, Cpl. Breezy, USMC (Ret.) to lay wreaths in honor of the Fallen.
In a powerful and moving display, the Condor Squadron Officers and Airmen Association touched the crowd with three flyovers of vintage World War II North American AT-6 airplanes. The final flyover performed the “Missing Man” formation in honor of fallen pilots.
In poignant remarks, The Adjutant General of California, Major General David Baldwin and John Barron, COO of American Veterans Traveling Tribute spoke of the sacrifices made by our Military and their families. Also in attendance representing their respective branches were Vice Admiral David Buss, Commander, Naval Air Forces, Brigadier General Vincent Coglianese, Commanding General, 1st Marine Logistics Group (1st MLG); and Command Sergeant Major William Clarke, the Senior Enlisted Soldier in California.
Steve Politis, a 96-year-old B-17 fighter pilot who was shot down over Yugoslavia in World War II, was visibly moved by the outpouring of respect for America’s Veterans. “I think about the many Operation Gratitude volunteer ‘hands’ that have touched these one million care packages–either by assembling the boxes or making one of the items inside,” he offered. “There is no more beautiful way to express appreciation and let our Military know that people care.”
Always a highlight of Operation Gratitude milestone package celebrations, the reveal of the special gifts for the One Millionth Care Package brought gasps and cheers from the audience of more than 4,000 attendees. Upper Deck, producer of sports cards and authenticated sports memorabilia, presented a poster hand-addressed to the One Millionth Package Recipient, signed by Tiger Woods.
Best Buy, the consumer electronics giant, revealed two Home Entertainment Systems–one each for the Millionth and the One Millionth & One packages. The systems included 55 and 32-inch Insignia TVs, Rocketfish wireless speakers, Insignia digital cameras and picture frames, a plethora of Rocketfish accessories, plus iPads.
Catching the crowd completely off-guard, Living Essentials, LLC, the distributor of 5-hour ENERGY® shots, unveiled the major gift for the recipient of Operation Gratitude’s One Millionth Care Package: a Ford F-150 pickup truck. The vehicle will be delivered to the soon-to-be-revealed service member upon returning home from deployment next Spring.
“Our One Millionth Care Package represents the enormous generosity and support of patriotic Americans and businesses all across the country,” said Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude. “We are thrilled that Upper Deck, Best Buy and 5-hour ENERGY® donated such extraordinary gifts to the milestone package recipient, who today represents all the members of the greatest Military on earth.”
An exciting secret overseas delivery of The One Millionth Care Package, containing symbolic keys to the Ford F-150 and certificates for the other gifts, was revealed to the public on NBC’s TODAY Show and Nightly News with Brian Williams on Thursday, December 12.
See the NBC Nightly News segment here: Care Packages Brighten Sailors’ Spirits
Looking ahead, Blashek noted that even as America’s longest war is coming to an end, our troops continue to deploy to “hot-spots” far from home for long periods of time, and 40,000 Wounded Warriors, 23 million Veterans and their families wonder whether they have been forgotten. “Operation Gratitude’s goal remains the same: Lift the spirits and meet the evolving needs of our Active Duty and Veteran communities, and provide volunteer opportunities for all Americans to express their appreciation to members of our Military,” she asserted. “Today we have started our March to the Second Million.”
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