By Army Sgt. Nicole Paese, 361st Press Camp Headquarters
FORT BRAGG, N.C., — Hundreds of U.S. Army and foreign airborne troops gathered here Dec. 1-2 to get in some airborne training and provide Christmas cheer to local children during the 20th annual Operation Toy Drop.
The Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop is an annual tradition here. Hosted by the Army Reserve and the Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, participating soldiers conduct an airborne operation with foreign jumpmasters. During the event, the American soldiers — who could jump with an unwrapped toy or stuffed animal that would be donated to underprivileged local children — also had a chance to earn their foreign jump wings.
On Dec. 1, soldiers gathered at Green Ramp at Pope Air Field here from 7-11 a.m. to receive a lottery ticket. Troops with winning tickets received a spot in the airborne operation the following day.
The Operation Toy Drop tradition was established in 1998 by then-Army Staff Sgt. Randy Oler, a U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command soldier. Operation Toy Drop began as a training event, with more than 1,200 soldiers participating and donating 550 toys.
Foreign Country Participation
“Eight foreign countries participate. Soldiers train with foreign jump masters and learn commands,” said Army Maj. Kathleen S. Feeley-Lynch, with the Army Reserve’s 7458th Medical Backfill Battalion. For many of the reservists, she said, Operation Toy Drop serves as a venue to conduct training that mirrors their civilian careers. Foreign countries participating in this year’s event included Canada, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden.
“A lot of our new soldiers are medics for the Army and are full-time students,” said Feeley-Lynch. “Many of the soldiers have recently completed the Drop Zone Medical Operations course offered at Fort Bragg’s Medical Simulation Training Center.” The course, she said, focuses on injuries that could occur during airborne operations.
Operation Toy Drop also enables soldiers to experience real-world military training.
“Soldiers practice basic soldiering and medical skills in a controlled environment,” said Army Reserve 1st Lt. Kirsten A. Westberg, a medical-surgical nurse with the 7458th and a civilian nurse.
“You’re in a field environment, being able to set up an aid station and learn how to load patients and litters on to an aircraft,” Feeley-Lynch said.
“It’s more relevant for real life. We need hands-on field training,” said Army Maj. Arnold J. Cortez, an emergency room nurse with the 7458th. “This is what we’re trained for.”
Working With Other Reservists
Another benefit is the opportunity to work with soldiers from other Army Reserve units.
“We’re fortunate to work with a bunch of professionals,” Cortez said.
“We have two doctors, several [emergency room] nurses, an [intensive care unit] nurse and several medics. We have 28 personnel in total,” Feeley-Lynch said. “We’re spread out through the drop zone; we also have roaming medics who are walking around with first aid bags.”
“Our overall goal to provide support for this mission. Our team is well-equipped to help people out if they really need it,” Cortez said.