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 were 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.
As 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.
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 Carolyn’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.
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.