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Mobility Airmen participate in 17th Annual Operation Toy Drop

  • Published
  • By Marvin Krause
  • 43rd Airlift Group Public Affairs
Total Force mobility Airmen from Air Mobility Command, Air Force Reserve Command, Air National Guard and the German Air Force participated in the 17th annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop here Dec. 5 thru Dec. 6.

Operation Toy Drop, hosted by the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), is the largest joint airborne operation in the world, bringing U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and allied nations together to collect and distribute toys to local children during the holidays.

Four C-130 Hercules aircraft and Airmen from the 440th Airlift Wing, 910th Airlift Wing, Youngstown, Ohio, 145th Airlift Wing, Charlotte, 43d Airlift Group and one German Air Force Transall C-160 aircraft, ensured the successful outload and airdrop of U.S. Army paratroopers and foreign jumpmasters participating in this year's Toy Drop.

"This is probably the biggest operation that we conduct between joint services and joint countries," said Capt. Steve Bergstrom, Air Force mission commander for this year's operation who is also a C-130H Hercules pilot assigned to the 2nd Airlift Squadron. "I can't think of another operation that involves at least dozens of countries in building this unity and friendships between nations where we are able to conduct these operations, so it's amazing," he said.

Participating in his third Toy Drop, Bergstrom coordinated all flying operations to get the paratroopers off the aircraft and onto the drop zone safely and efficiently.

"This year's Toy Drop was a completely different operation. In the past, the first drop was massed over the drop zone in formation, usually five to six ships, bringing a majority of the paratroopers in on the drop zone at the same time," Bergstrom said. "This year, what we were able to work out was a max-flow operation. We had fifty jumpers out every 10 to 15 minutes continuously from the first drop at 8 a.m. until twelve o'clock. It was an impressive sight, talking to people on the ground. The Army absolutely loved it. They told me it's the best Toy Drop they've been a part of. The operations ran so smoothly--they were impressed. The smiles on everybody's faces were great," he said.

Over the two-day operation, five joint aircraft flew 27 sorties, dropping over 1,453 paratroopers over Fort Bragg's Sicily Drop Zone. Bad weather forced some cancellations of some of the lifts on Saturday, but because the C-130H Hercules aircraft is equipped with the Advanced Weather Aerial Delivery System, or AWADS, aircrews were able to drop paratroopers over the drop zone during adverse weather conditions.

"We were able to complete the drops an hour and a half ahead of scheduled time. That's how efficiently the crews performed," Bergstrom said. "The separation between each drop was 10 minutes. We had a round robin of aircraft taking off and 10-minutes later, they would drop, then 15-minutes later, they would land, and 15-20 minutes after that, they would take off again. That's how efficient everything was rolling all day long. The crews really enjoyed the ops and they were impressed," he said.

Similar in support for a Joint Operational Access Exercise and Joint Airborne/Air Transportability Training operations here, the airdrop planning and execution for this year's Operation Toy Drop was a little more complicated. Joint Airborne/Air Transportability Training airlift missions provide continuation and proficiency training to airlift aircrews, support personnel, and service customers. The Tanker/Airlift Control Center or Air Mobility Operations Control Center coordinates with users to provide airland, airdrop, aircraft load and service school support.

"I don't think this operation happens if you have transient aircrews coming in to conduct this operation without the local presence of the 440th Airlift Wing and 43rd Airlift Group who know how to work with the 82nd Airborne Division and fly the local procedures which are very convoluted at times," Bergstrom said. "They're intensive in the knowledge that you need to know and understand what goes on every year with this operation. This is such a big drop and morale boost as well for everybody, including a big presence in the community as well," he said.

Each year since, the chance to perform a 'Hollywood' jump supervised by foreign jumpmasters has drawn thousands of Soldiers to participate in Operation Toy Drop. Jumpmasters from six allied nations supervised airborne operations during the main jump day on Friday, Dec. 5, and over the following two weeks with Army special-operations units.

Over its 17-year span, Operation Toy Drop has collected and distributed thousands of toys for children in the Sandhills, North Carolina area.

Operation Toy Drop will collect and distribute over 5,000 toys donated by Fort Bragg soldiers through Christmas to needy children who live on or near Fort Bragg. In exchange for a donated toy, paratroopers were provided a jump lottery number and an opportunity to earn their foreign jump wings if their number was selected.
Foreign jumpmasters from Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands and Poland, participated in this year's event.

"This is a great opportunity to support the community by providing Soldiers an opportunity to earn their international jump wings, but also, primarily, to get the toys for the children," said Lt. Col. David Morgan, a C-130H Hercules pilot and 43rd Operations Support Squadron commander. "I'm happy to support the holiday spirit and it's good to see all of the paratroopers excited about getting their foreign jump wings," he said.

Within the Airborne community, foreign jump wings is a status symbol to have had an experience with an allied or coalition airborne force, and even more so is the recognition of being able to wear on a paratrooper's dress uniform that country's airborne wings or parachutist badge.

Masterminded in 1998 by then-Staff Sgt. Randy Oler, a Civil Affairs Soldier, Operation Toy Drop started as a relatively minor success. After months of planning, the first Operation Toy Drop was small and just 550 toys were raised -- but it was a start.

Since 1998, the operation has collected and donated more than 86,000 toys. Each toy collected is donated to a child in need--almost 19,000 children received toys in 2013 through Operation Toy Drop.

On April 20, 2004, Sgt. 1st Class Randall R. Oler suffered a fatal heart attack while performing jumpmaster duties. The void left by his death was a difficult one to fill; Oler had run the operation from memory for six years. With the support of every unit on Fort Bragg, Operation Toy Drop has continued on and, in 2013, Operation Toy Drop raised more than 10,000 toys--from bikes to dolls to video game systems--for families and children in need throughout the region.