FORT BRAGG, N.C. –
Out of 2,300 paratroopers in line, only one earned the title of “First Soldier” and the right to participate in an airborne operation in support of Operation Toy Drop.
The 20th annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop — a Fort Bragg tradition and collective training exercise — is scheduled to run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 8, 2017, here. Operation Toy Drop combines U.S. Army Reserve personnel, dozens of volunteers, foreign jumpmasters, and toys for what is the world’s largest joint and combined airborne operation.
With only a limited number of slots available for airborne jumps, Soldiers participate in a lottery to win a seat on an airplane. Spc. Ryan S. Mitchell, a mechanic and paratrooper stationed here, lined up at 6 p.m. the night before with a bag of toys in hand in hopes of being named as the First Soldier.
“This is my first time at Toy Drop,” said Mitchell, a native of Ispwich, Mass., “I want to donate for a good cause so every kid can get a Christmas gift and I hope to get foreign jump wings.”
Soldiers who train and jump from an airplane with foreign paratroopers earn the coveted foreign jump wings badge.
Previously, it was an unwritten rule that the First Soldier to line up would receive a seat. Typically, a winner of the lottery would give his or her seat to the First Soldier if they didn’t have their number called. This year the Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), which is running the event, made it into an official honor.
Mitchell was also the recipient of the holiday spirit, thanks to Sgt. Ezekiel L. Polite. Polite, a unit supply specialist with 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., was in fact the first Solider to line up outside the staging area.
“Two years ago I was the First Solider. I felt it was the right thing to do to give up my spot this year,” said Polite. He has already completed thirty-two airborne jumps prior and graduated from the Ranger Assessment Selection Program. He also has earned foreign jump wings from Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands, and was here more for the experience of giving back than of receiving.
Maj. Gen. Darrell Guthrie, Commanding General, USACAPOC(A), publicly acknowledged both Mitchell and Polite for their service and dedication to the cause.
Mitchell will also be jumping in memory of a Fallen Soldier, Spc. Ryan Lucas Elliott.
Patta Elliot, Gold Star Mother of Elliot and volunteer at Toy Drop, gave Mitchell one of her son’s commemorative coins. Elliot made the ultimate sacrifice, dying while serving in Iraq during his deployment with the Army Reserve.
“I had to fight back tears about the tremendous sacrifices that the military and their families make,” said Elliot.