FORT BRAGG, N.C. –
A legacy continued at U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) as they once again gathered for the 2022 Randy Oler Memorial Toy Drop 2.0 here, Dec. 4-13, 2022.
Originally developed in 1998 by then Staff Sgt. Randy Oler, Operation Toy Drop was a way for Soldiers to join together in the spirit of the season and be generous to those less fortunate during the holiday season. Oler did most of the logistical planning and organization, and the operation continued to grow.
Following Oler’s death in 2004, the operation became his legacy, and that legacy was carried on by his friends, family, and Army family at USACAPOC(A).
“At the time, it was at the end of long deployments, and it was Christmas time,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 5 Michael A. Rich, command chief warrant officer for USACAPOC. “What they (Randy and his friends) wanted to do was do an operation in which they raised toys to support the area’s children because at the time, a lot of Soldiers were deployed, and they weren’t home to take care of the family. It smarted small, a few aircraft, they didn’t even have foreign jumpmasters at the time. As it grew, they started inviting different countries in. The countries had such a great experience they took it home, talked about it, and it ballooned into this huge thing.”
After a three-year hiatus, Operation Toy Drop is back at USACAPOC(A) and Soldiers are excited.
“This boosts morale. Jumps like this with foreign jump masters, and to learn how they do things, it always boosts morale,” said Sgt. 1st Class Erik Lowe, operations NCOIC, G6, USACAPOC(A). “It’s also great to build relationships (with foreign forces) so when we go, we have relationships built knowing that we can jump with them, we understand how they do things, they understand how we do things, and that partnership can solidify a great bond.”
A change to the operation occurred this year as USACAPOC(A) restarted OTD 2.0 planning within three months of executing the event. With a shortened timeline, the command pre-manifested seats, identifying specific Soldiers for each allocated parachute before the operation rather than the previously used lottery system.
“The interoperability that we are working on here … in order to accomplish this operation in the three months, the general engaged on a multinational level with the different countries in order to bring them here to practice interoperability,” said Rich. “The training that Randy was doing is the same thing we’re doing here. We’re training all these nine different countries on American operations, familiarizing them, and at the same time the Soldiers that we are training are getting a taste of what not only NATO countries, but Thailand, other organizations, how they do business.”
Even though the lottery has disappeared, the toys haven’t. Although voluntary, toy collection baskets overflowing with over 1,500 toys made it clear that most Soldiers participating in OTD 2.0 wanted the opportunity to give back to the community.
“For the kids, for the community, obviously like to give back,” said Lowe. “That’s one thing I’m very proud of doing, of all this giving back and helping out the community.”
This year, USACAPOC(A) partnered with the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation for help distributing the toys and donations allowing Soldiers to give back to the community.
“We’ve already gathered an immense number of toys and this is only day one of the Toy Drop,” said Bridget Santiago, a Toys for Tots volunteer for Cumberland and Robison County. "All of the children across Cumberland and Robison County are hugely appreciative, their families are hugely appreciative and this year for the first year we can say that Fort Bragg families are recipients also… on post, Fort Bragg families, way to go for that one, thank you very much!”
Although the operation looked a little different this year, it still meant a great deal to Oler’s friends and family who were at Sicily Drop Zone on December 9, 2022.
“We all wish that Randy could be here,” said Rich. “Randy was a big guy, and his heart was as big as he was. Randy wanted to take care of the kids, but the camaraderie that we are doing here with these nations is something you’re going to remember for the rest of your life. There’s no replacement for the experience that we’re doing and the fact that we’re doing community engagement and taking care of kids at the same time, it’s a gift to everyone. It’s a gift to the Army, it’s a gift to the community, it’s a gift to the children.”
Willie Wellbrook, retired Air Force master sergeant and friend of Oler, was more than ready to see the operation back after the three-year hiatus.
“It means the world,” said Wellbrook. “The dedication, the motivation, the giving speaks volumes. Sometimes it’s the specialists who don’t make a lot that bring in the best toys, that tells you who these people are… I’m here for y’all, I’m here for Randy, I’m here for Randy’s family, I always made that promise that I made to keep his legacy alive. And I will.”
“I think we’re doing great things,” added Rich. “Even though we’re more focused on the training aspect of the mission, we can’t forget the original intention. The original intention was to take care of kids during the holiday season. I want toy drop to come back to the point where we are literally going to every state surrounding North Carolina, distributing toys to orphanages, organizations, and things like that.
Even though it’s all about training it’s kind of like the old adage, ‘mission first, Soldiers always’ so even though we’re accomplishing training think about what we’re doing, think about the kids,” he concluded.
According to author Tony Robbins, a legacy means “a lasting impact on the world… leaving a legacy means dreaming big and changing the world for the better.”
Thank you, Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler, for your legacy to Soldiers and allied partners who are safer, validated and better trained, and to thousands of children who have opened toys on Christmas morning all because a jumpmaster dreamed big and changed the world for the better.