FORT BRAGG, NC – This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop. But it wasn’t always called by that name. Operation Toy Drop was first launched in 1998 by a then-Staff Sgt. Randy Oler, a U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) soldier with one dream – to help children in need around the country.
The real holiday miracle here is how such a small group of people, grew together to have a large impact. Toy Drop has gone from just a few hundred soldiers and a few hundred toys, to more than 2,000 soldiers and more than 2,500 toys donated each year during the “lottery day,” which is day one of two of Operation Toy Drop.
On lottery day, soldiers line the street at Green Ramp on Pope Field, N.C. to donate a toy in exchange for a ticket, which may have the winning number to win a chance to earn foreign jump wings the next day – “jump day.”
Toy Drop is now the largest combined airborne operation in the world and draws more and more Soldiers from around the country to participate every year. Toy Drop has grown from having only one foreign country come to give their jump wings to American paratroopers, to having up to a grand total of more than 7 countries on some years; and now that Toy Drop has “gone national” and is beginning to include subordinate USACAPOC(A) units, the amount of soldier participation from all over the country is on the rise.
Operation Toy Drop has had a significant impact on USACAPOC(A) as a whole, with the number of people it takes to run the show and how it really boosts morale.
“It takes a lot of people,” said Cpt. Jennifer Foster, Operation Toy Drop Elf with Headquarters and Headquarters Company USACAPOC(A). “And within a week and a half’s time we put in about 100 hours of work.”
With all the work required, it is necessary for the U.S. Army Reserve command to put many of their HHC soldiers on annual training orders during Operation Toy Drop in order to cover all the time and work that is required by this sizeable operation, explained Foster.
Toy Drop doesn’t stop with just Fort Bragg. Soldiers from all over the country are getting involved. In 2011, Operation Toy Drop went national, using USACAPOC(A)’s subordinate units from around the nation for help with toy collection and distribution.
“Some of the units do local toy drives,” said Foster. “They get involved with their communities. Then, the soldiers help distribute the toys.”
Operation Toy Drop is all about the children, from the perspective of the Family in need. However, what people may not see is that Toy Drop is ultimately a training opportunity for Soldiers in USACAPOC(A), as well — especially with the particular military occupational specialties the Soldiers hold.
“It’s a civil affairs and psychological operations unit,” said Foster. “So, that’s what the soldiers do. That’s their job – to reach out to communities and fill a void for them.”
This is also good training on the airborne operations and logistics side of the unit, as well. It takes a lot of planning and organization to get Toy Drop up and running every year. Usually, the planning begins months in advance — if not right after the last Toy Drop ends.
“Toy Drop doesn’t start today,” explained Foster. “It started last January with the planning and trying to get the foreign jumpmasters here and make sure we have all the logistical support. Eventually, all the pieces have to fit together to make the operation run smoothly.”
Though USACAPOC(A) runs the show with Operation Toy Drop, they are not the only ones involved in making things come together. Toy Drop has expanded substantially since it began, and now involves several other units in the coordination of the operation.
“It [Toy Drop] started out with only one aircraft,” said Phil Maughan, secretary of the general staff at HHC, USACAPOC(A).
“Now it has expanded to include the XVIII Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division’s participation. Also, with Special Operations Forces week, we have the participation of U.S. Army Special Operations Command and Special Warfare Center and School and some of the Special Forces groups, as well. It’s a really good wide range of unit involvement over about a week and a half time period.”
Through all the expanding of Operation Toy Drop, the addition of more units and all the coordination that is involved, USACAPOC(A) still plans to be the unit to maintain the operation for the foreseeable future. With talk of other units trying to take over, USACAPOC(A) sees Operation Toy Drop as their ‘thing’, and wishes to remain as having such an impact on the Soldiers and the community.
“When Randy Oler started this,” Maughan explained. “He was a soldier with HHC, USACAPOC(A). This is our big event, and we would like to keep it that way. It supports not only the Soldiers and their training, but the community as well.”