NEWS | Dec. 5, 2014

ehind the scenes at Operation Toy Drop

By Story by Spc. Kimber Gillus U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne)

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Operation Toy Drop is the largest joint airborne operation in the world, bringing Army, Army Reserve, Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and partner nations together to raise toys for children in need during the holidays. 

While paratroopers usually get the limelight in this unique annual tradition, there are thousands of Army Reserve Soldiers behind the scenes that make Operation Toy Drop a 17-year success.

The U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) is where Operation Toy Drop was born, created by the late Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler in 1998. Oler, described by many as a “gentle giant,” desired to give Soldiers a way to be generous to less fortunate children at Christmas. 

In the beginning, Oler himself did most of the logistical planning for the operation, a great deal of it from his own memory. After his death in 2004, the job of coordinating Operation Toy Drop fell to his friends and USACAPOC(A). 

It is a task that has grown exponentially in scope and complexity, as the number of both eager paratroopers, and participating nations continues to rise every year.

Parking facilities, lodging and operational documentation must be arranged months in advance of the exercise. Operational centers must also be set up to process thousands of Soldiers who enter to jump. Much of this preparation is done by USACAPOC(A) Soldiers.

USACAPOC(A) personnel will in-process Soldiers for jumps. Some will act as primary points of contact to gather Soldiers’ information, while others provide quality control and confirm all data entered for a flight manifest is accurate. 

“One of the challenges is to keep distractions at a minimum,” said Staff Sgt. Seth Anderson, a human resources sergeant with USACAPOC(A). His team will process Soldiers and place their information onto flight manifests. 

Those manifests are turned over to the corresponding stick leaders, whose responsibility it is to inspect Soldiers for safety and physical condition. 

USACAPOC(A) staff will also create award certificates and badge memorandums. That memo allows Soldiers to wear the foreign jump wings they earn by jumping during Operation Toy Drop. Foreign jump wings are highly sought after; a mark of pride for many paratroopers. This makes the official memo extremely important.

Another human resources sergeant, Sgt. Brandon Miller, stated that Operation Toy Drop presents Reserve Soldiers in his unit with the rare chance to hone their skillset in a fast-paced, demanding environment. “Outside of deployment, this is the best opportunity for Reserve Soldiers to focus, hunker down and do their jobs,” Miller said.

Randy Oler’s vision has come a long way, with nearly 90,000 toys collected and distributed since its inception. Reserve Soldiers building the foundation for Operation Toy Drop garner valuable on-the-job experience with the added bonus of giving back to families and the local community. 

“I’m glad that USACAPOC(A) still has it as a tradition. It builds camaraderie and community, and that’s the most important part,” said Anderson.