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Pope Airmen and Fort Bragg Soldiers combine efforts for Operation Toy Trot

  • Published
  • By Marvin Krause
  • 43rd Airlift Group
Pope Airmen and Fort Bragg Soldiers participated in the Air Force's annual Operation Toy Trot 5K race here Dec. 3, collecting toys for the annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop scheduled for Dec. 5 thru Dec. 7.

Over 150 servicemembers dressed in holiday and fitness attire, donated toys and competed in the 5K race around the Pope Field flight line to help kickoff this year's U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command's (Airborne) annual Operation Toy Drop. 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 Trot was a great start to this year's Toy Drop efforts," said Master Sgt. Claudia Alvarez, Operation Toy Trot project officer from the 43rd Force Support Squadron. "The main purpose of joining forces with the Army for this event was to increase awareness for Operation Toy Drop and to collect additional toys for the local community, including our Airmen and Soldier families as well," she said.

This event and Operation Toy Drop underscores the service's belief that Soldiers and Airmen - the people who collectively come together as a team for great causes like training and charity - are an organization's best asset.

Certificates and prizes were awarded for the Toy Trot's 1st place male and female, 1st place team and best holiday attire, male and female. 1st Lt. Lorin Hoover, 43rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, placed first for the females and Airman 1st Class Benjamin Latimer, 43rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, placed first for the males.

"This year, we attached a unique label with a piece of chocolate to each donated Toy Trot toy to honor the Berlin Airlift's original 'Candy Bomber', Air Force Col. Gail S. "Hal" Halvorsen," said Col. Kenneth Moss, 43rd Airlift Group commander. "During the Berlin Airlift from 1948-1949, Col. Halvorsen decided to boost the spirits of the German children during that time of uncertainty and privation. He organized missions to drop candy to children using parachutes made of handkerchiefs. It was such a success, soon other pilots joined in to create what became known as Operation Little Vittles. Col. Halvorsen knew instinctively how much difference an act of kindness can make in a child's life. We are simply trying to follow in his footsteps and pay homage to a man with a big heart," he said.

Halvorsen, who turned 94 years old on October 10, will be among members of the Civil Air Patrol receiving a Congressional Gold Medal on Dec. 10 for their service during World War II. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest award Congress can give to a civilian. He perhaps is best known for advocating themes of service towards others. "Service is the bottom line to happiness and fulfillment," he said.

Operation Toy Drop, originally masterminded in 1998 by then-Staff Sgt. Randy Oler, a Civil Affairs Soldier, 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--from bikes to dolls to video game systems--for families and children in need throughout the region. Each toy collected is donated to a child in need - almost 20,000 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 and, in 2013, Operation Toy Drop raised more than 10,000 toys.