“…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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Every Care Package Counts

USS Ingraham Collage
Dear Friends,

Our Troops need you. They need to know they are remembered and appreciated for the Inside the Boxsacrifices they make each day.

All of you — our dedicated supporters – have made a tremendous difference in service members’ lives over the past 11 years.

However, the need is still great.

Why? Because the millions of Veterans and Wounded Warriors, and the tens of thousands of men and women still deployed in harm’s way, need a reminder that someone at home is thinking of them. 

Whether you knit a warm scarf, donate “wish list” items, give $15 to send one package, $45 to send three packages, or send a package every month of the year for $180, we need your help.

I hope you will take this opportunity to visit www.OperationGratitude.com and support our continuing mission to serve those who serve.

Thank you!

Fondly,

Carolyn signature


Carolyn Blashek

Founder and CEO
Operation Gratitude

P.S. Please watch and share this wonderful, inspiring video:

 

 

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Live near LA? Volunteer with us!

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We love our volunteers! Want to join us? We welcome everyone age 12 and older and we offer a wide variety of jobs — there’s something for everyone!

OpGrat Assembly Day May 26 024Find our full schedule, important armory rules and more details here:

Operation Gratitude Volunteer Schedule (Please keep checking back, since we sometimes have last-minute changes.)

Please download, fill out and bring this Release Form with you to turn in at the Volunteer Check-In table. Pick up a nametag while you’re there, and then if you need Community Service Hours for school or work go to the Community Service desk to sign in. When you leave, sign out and you will be handed a certificate indicating the hours you worked.

If you are inquiring on behalf of a corporate group, club or business and would like to volunteer during the week, please send an email to Dana@OperationGratitude.com for more information regarding our different volunteer opportunity levels/activities from which to choose.

The armory address:

Operation Gratitude/California Army National Guard
17330 Victory Boulevard (at Louise)
Van Nuys, CA 91406-5438

Ample parking is available in an adjacent lot.

Yes, we work hard…but we have a lot of FUN, too!

Watch more Operation Gratitude videos at our YouTube channel.

Don’t live near Los Angeles, but you still want to help? Find more information here: Help Make More Smiles — No Matter Where You Live!

More questions? Contact opgrat@gmail.com and we will get back to you asap!

As always, THANK YOU for your support!

 

 

 

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USS Gettysburg: Welcome home — and THANK YOU!

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It was an exciting honor to be among the friends and family welcoming home the crew aboard USS Gettysburg! An added bonus was seeing Operation Gratitude’s One Millionth Care Package recipient, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SW) Brooke Oekerman, again, and giving her the keys to her 2014 Ford F-150 pickup truck. THANK YOU, 5-Hour Energy, for this generous gift!


Watch a WJXT4 The Local Station story about the homecoming: http://bit.ly/QtUJjw

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For more about Operation Gratitude’s One Millionth Care Package, please read this earlier blog post: Mission Accomplished

See more photos from this special day here: Welcome Home, USS Gettysburg!

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Paracord “Survival” Bracelets FAQs & Tips

OpGrat 3.22 016A  guest post from Operation Gratitude’s Special Projects Coordinator and Paracord Team Leader, Kelly South (pictured second from left, front row, with her hard-working team of volunteer instructors):

I receive hundreds of emails every month asking countless questions, and I wanted to not only answer the most common questions, but also some others you may not have thought of.

One of the main questions we get is if we still need bracelets, and the answer is a resounding YES!

We want to put a bracelet in each and every care package that goes out the door, and that is quite a task. We first and foremost focus on our deployed troops, and that means we need an average of 50,000 – 60,000 bracelets each year. Since we can’t do this alone, we need you to keep working and sending your bracelets in. (See How to Make a Paracord “Survival” Bracelet if you need a tutorial!)

The other questions we get are directed to bracelet-making specifics, and I will hopefully cover them all right now.

So here we go!

Question: Where can I buy the cord and buckles? Bracelet Kit
Answer:
We offer precut and buckled cord through our Ebay page at: Operation Gratitude Ebay You can also find cord and buckles on the internet.

Question: If I buy my own cord, what type of paracord should I use?
Answer: We ask that you use 550 paracord. This is cord that can hold 550 pounds, and has 7 strands inside that can each hold 50 pounds. If it doesn’t say “550 paracord” chances are it is not. Please do not send rope, as we will not send bracelets made of rope to our troops.

Question: What size buckle should I use?
Answer: We recommend that you use a ⅜” curved side release buckle in black. Yes, you can use larger ones, but we would prefer that the buckle is black no matter the size.

Question: What size should a bracelet be when finished?
Answer: 8 to 9 inches long, and that includes the buckle.

IMG_0188Question: How much cord should I use?
Answer: The rule is one foot of cord for every inch of bracelet. So for 8-inch bracelets, you should use 8-feet of cord. When you cut your cord, please heat the ends until they begin to melt, and then squeeze flat with a pair of pliers. This will make it much easier to put the cord in the buckle, and will keep the inside strands from spilling out while you make the bracelet.

Question: What colors are acceptable?
Answer: We ask that you use muted colors, or colors that will blend with our troops’ uniforms. Please do NOT use neon colors such as pink, yellow, orange, or green. Our troops go out of their way to blend into their environment, and a sniper can see a neon color from 500 yards away. We also ask that you use gender neutral colors since the bracelets will be going to both men and women.

We do not accept reflective cord. It reflects light just as the name implies and this is truly a safety issue for our troops in the field. White is just a bad color, as it gets dirty the first time they go on patrol.

Finally, please do not send two-tone bracelets. While they look great, they are 2-4’ lengths and we promise them a minimum of eight solid feet of cord. Also, the melted together ends can break in an emergency.

Question: Should I finish my bracelet by burning the ends to the bracelets?
Answer: No. We ask that you send them in unfinished. We have found that while there are hundreds of ideas for doing the finish, most use too much heat and can actually damageOpGrat 3.22 067 the cord. Also, our troops would need pliers, scissors, a razor blade and a spare 10 minutes to get them open. Not a great idea in an emergency.

We use a very special technique that will keep the bracelet closed until needed, and yet allows for easy deployment in an emergency. This has taken us months of trial and error, and cannot be taught in an email.

Question: Should I seal the ends with something like tape so my bracelet doesn’t unravel during shipment?
Answer: No. Please do not use any type of tape, do not cover it in silicone, or in any way add anything sticky to keep the bracelet from coming apart. Your bracelet will not unravel during shipment, and the adhesives will cause me to cut off the damaged section.

Question: How much cord should I leave you for finishing?
Answer: If you can make another stitch, then make one. If not, you’re done and I’ll take it from there.

Question: Should I send a note with my bracelet?
Answer: YES! We ask that the note be small enough to fit on a business card, because our bracelets are sent in a 3”x5” bag with a card from Operation Gratitude. Please do not Paracord Braceletattach the note to each bracelet. Simply put all of your notes in a plastic bag in the box. We will put them in the bag with the bracelets, and we usually end up removing whatever you used to tie the note to the bracelet.

Feel free to send your email address as well, but there are a few things you need to consider:

Send your first name only, and the state where you live. If the note is from anyone under 18, please use an adult’s email, and screen the note received from the service member prior to having the minor read it. Responses should always be done under adult supervision.

Question: Should I buckle the bracelet before I mail it?
Answer: No. Besides the fact that I have to unbuckle each one for finishing (quite time consuming), they take up 3 times the space in a box when you ship them.

Question: What’s the best way to ship my bracelets?
Answer: I have found that keeping the bracelet flat allows you to put a whole lot more in each box, and that lets you use a smaller box or envelope.

Depending on how many bracelets you’re sending, you might want to use a USPS Priority Mail 140208_IMG_0218_1600Flat Rate Box. A small box can hold 15-20, a medium can hold 200, and a large can hold 300 or more. This way you’re not paying for the weight, just the box.

Question: Do I have to mail my bracelets in if I live close by?
Answer: No. Please check our schedule. Any item for donation can be dropped off at the armory between 9am-2pm Monday-Friday, unless it’s a national holiday, in which case the armory would be closed (just like any government building). 

You can also bring them with you on one of our weekend volunteer days. Please be sure to check our calendar for weekend dates, as we are not open on any other weekend days.

Question: Where should I ship my bracelets?
Answer:
Operation Gratitude/California Army National Guard
17330 Victory Boulevard
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Attn: Angel Cuevas

Please take a moment to read our full Shipping and Donation instructions, found here.

Question: Should I send a donor form even if I’m only sending a few bracelets?
Answer: YES! We want to know who is sending each and every item to us, since it allows us to send you a letter of thanks. Please be sure to fill out your email address on the form, so that we can send you further updates.

OpGrat 3.22 091Download a DONOR FORM

Question: Can I receive community service for making and donating bracelets?
Answer: YES! We offer an hour of community service for each 5 bracelets we receive. Please enclose the form you need signed, and a self-addressed stamped envelope with your bracelets. We will sign and return the form to you as soon as we can. Please understand that our turnaround time can be 2-4 weeks.

Finally, I get questioned every day about the bracelets, and why they are so important. There are lots of reasons, so I sat down one afternoon and put my thoughts to paper.

This what I feel a bracelet truly means:

A Simple Piece of Rope

Many people don’t understand how important a paracord bracelet is, and it’s not just about
OpGrat 1Bhow they are used in an emergency.

Most commanders allow our troops to wear our bracelets with their uniforms, and that’s a rare exception to the uniform code. Troops tell us that every time they look at their bracelets they have a feeling of home. They smile a bit longer, breathe a bit easier, and they know in that moment, that they are not forgotten.

It’s hard to imagine that a simple piece of rope can be that important, but it truly can. It isn’t just a simple piece of rope. It’s a piece of the person who made it, the group that decided to send them in, and a reminder that we are here for them. It seems so simple, and yet, it means so much.

As you make your bracelets, picture a Marine, a Soldier, a Sailor, or an Airman standing in front of you. Think of the smile you just created, and the pride with which it will be worn.

Believe that the time you spend making each bracelet is far beyond what you had intended, and for that, know that you have their thanks as well as mine. 

If by chance I haven’t answered your question, or you’re still not sure about anything bracelet-related, please contact me at: opgratparacord@gmail.com

THANK YOU for your support!

 

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Stay Strong, Boston!

We remember the events of one year ago today, including the heroic efforts of so many civilians alongside professional emergency first responders and military personnel.

Boston Marathon2We are keeping all those who were affected in our thoughts and prayers.

Stay strong, Boston!

 

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