FORT BRAGG, N.C. – It is an annual harbinger of Christmas
here in the North Carolina Sand Hills.
filled the skies over Sicily Drop Zone, here, Dec. 5 and 6,
2014, signaling the start of the 17th annual Randy Oler
Memorial Operation Toy Drop.
Hosted by the U.S. Army
Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne),
an operational command under the U.S. Army Reserve Command,
Operation Toy Drop is a nearly two-week gathering of
Soldiers, volunteers, and allied jumpmasters, who spread the
holiday spirit throughout the area.
Billed as the
largest combined airborne operation in the world, Operation
Toy Drop has a much deeper meaning – giving back to those in
need in the communities surrounding Fort Bragg.
Paratroopers fill the sky at Sicily Drop Zone for the 17th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop, hosted by the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), a U.S. Army Reserve operational command, Dec. 6, 2014 at Fort Bragg, N.C. C-130H Hercules aircrews used the Adverse Weather Aerial Delivery System, or AWADS, to allow the paratroopers to safely exit the aircraft in the low clouds over the drop zone. (U.S. Army photo by Timothy L. Hale)
“Toy Drop really is a continuum of service,” said Lt. Col.
Aaron Clapsaddle, USACAPOC chief of air operations division
and Operation Toy Drop airborne commander. “All of our
Service members provide a service to the country and in many
cases, the community also provides services back to those in
“So with Toy Drop, we are giving back to
the community. For our Soldiers it is another way of
serving,” he said.
This year's first Soldier in line
to donate a new, unwrapped toy was Pfc. Ezekiel Polite of El
Paso, Texas. He wanted to give back to the community so much
that he got in the donation line at 2:45 p.m. Thursday –
nearly 17 hours before the doors opened at 8 a.m. Friday!
Polite, a unit supply specialist with the 3rd Brigade,
82nd Brigade Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, came
to Toy Drop last year but was “way in the back of the line.
I wanted to be first this year.”
Even though he
admitted being first in line was his goal, ultimately, he
understands that Toy Drop is about giving back to the
“It's all about the kids,” Polite said,
before donating a child's scooter. “I try to stay humble and
remind myself that this is for the kids. I do what I can.”
Polite wasn't the only one from his unit that made an
Spc. Hector Rios, a power generator
equipment repair specialist, was the third paratrooper in
line – nearly eight hours behind Polite.
donated a remote control car said, “It's nice to know the
toy I bring will make some child happy. I know that when I
went to buy the toy, I bought it as if someone was giving
the toy to me – a younger me and something that I would
In addition to bringing joy to a child this
Christmas, Toy Drop offers the paratroopers a little
something extra – foreign jump wings.
No Toy Drop
would be complete without the assistance of allied
jumpmasters. This year, jumpmasters from Germany, Indonesia,
Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, and Poland, participated in Toy
Paratroopers are teamed up with one of the
allies and their own airborne staff. Once a jump is
completed, the paratroopers line up in front of their
families and friends at Sicily Drop Zone to receive their
For Sgt. 1st Class Shane Weigel of Minot,
N.D., this was his third set of German jump wings. A member
of 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd
Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, he knew what
Lt. Col. Andreas Wichert, the German Army
Liaison at the 18th Airborne Corps, looked at Weigel's name
and said, “A German name. Are you ready?” Weigel smiled and
replied, “Yes” and Wichert forcefully punched, or “pinned”
the wings into Weigel's chest.
“I've earned all three
of my German wings at Fort Bragg,” Weigel said, smiling,
showing no signs of pain from the chest punch.
though Toy Drop is in it's 17th year, operationally, it was
different from past events.
In recent years, weather
has played a big factor in the cancellation of many of the
“lifts,” or aircraft full of paratroopers, which never took
off from Pope Army Airfield.
This year, the 1,000
hard-slot paratroopers, those who needed a jump, donated
their toys a day early and jumped on to Sicily on Friday.
That meant there was a better likelihood the 500
paratroopers selected in the Toy Drop lottery on Friday,
would make their jump on Saturday – weather permitting.
And it nearly worked. As has been the case in recent
years, weather forced the cancellation of some of the lifts.
This year, seven out of 10 lifts made it to the drop zone.
Thanks to some of the C-130H Hercules aircraft being
equipped with Adverse Weather Aerial Delivery System, or
AWADS, the flight crews were able to negotiate thick clouds
over the drop zone which allowed the paratroopers to exit
and land safely.
“All I saw was white (clouds) when I
stepped out,” said Pfc. William Thompson, of Akron, Ohio,
with the 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd
Airborne. “Then all of sudden you could see the ground. It
actually was really smooth, not much wind.”
change this year was the addition of more Army Reserve
assets to assist with the operation. Clapsaddle said that
Army medics from the 3rd Medical Command, parachute riggers
from the 824th Quartermaster Company (Heavy Airdrop Supply),
982nd Combat Camera, public affairs specialists from the
99th Regional Support Command and 318th Press Camp
Headquarters, and Army Reserve Careers Division enabled a
better use of available resources.
years, 18th Airborne Corps and individual units needed to
provide their own medical support,” he said. “This year, 3rd
MEDCOM personnel have medical providers and ambulances and
are here for the duration of the operation.”
the support lends itself to the total Army concept.
“It's a coming together of assets, not only USACAPOC but the
Army Reserve Command,” he said. “It showcases our
capabilities to the Army that we can take something as
complex as this operation and put it together.”
it's all said and done, counting additional jumps for
Special Operations Week at Luzon Drop Zone, Clapsaddle said
approximately 4,300 paratroopers will descend from the
“This is the largest Toy Drop we've done,” he
More photos available in frame below
By U.S. Army Timothy L. Hale
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