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Toy Drop set to celebrate 20 years of airborne operations

Soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Dec. 14, 2017, discuss the movement plan of the day for Operation Toy Drop XIX.

GEORGE THURMOND II/U.S. ARMY

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: November 25, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Forget the sleigh and reindeer. On Fort Bragg this time of year, Santa Claus is a paratrooper. And so are his elves.

The Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop has collected more than 100,000 toys over the past two decades. The annual Fort Bragg event, hosted by U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command, is part charity and part world's largest multinational airborne operation.

And this year, with Toy Drop in its 20th year, officials said the event will be bigger than ever.

Thousands of paratroopers, jumpmasters from eight foreign nations, air crews from across the country and hundreds of supporting soldiers will descend on Fort Bragg for the annual event Monday through  Dec. 7.

Lottery day, in which hundreds of soldiers line up at Pope Field in hopes of winning a chance to earn foreign jump wings, will take place on Friday.  The next day, at Sicily Drop Zone, the public is welcome to watch more than 20 airborne passes as an estimated 1,000 paratroopers take to the sky starting with a demonstration from the U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights, at 7:30 a.m.

Saska Ball, a spokeswoman for U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command, said this year's Toy Drop aims to pay homage to its impact over the past two decades, both as a training exercise and a toy drive for children in need.

USACAPOC is a two-star command which oversees all Army Reserve civil affairs, psychological operations and information operations units.

The first Operation Toy Drop was organized in 1998 by Staff Sgt. Randy Oler, a soldier with the command who wanted a way to give back to the community during training. Oler suffered a fatal heart attack while aboard a C-130 in April 2004.

This year, more than a dozen members of the Oler family are expected to attend Toy Drop events, Ball said. They will be joined by other special guests, including members of the Carolina Panthers, Miss North Carolina and USO singers.

Each year, Toy Drop collects thousands of toys that are distributed through several organizations to local children. At the same time, thousands of Fort Bragg paratroopers have the opportunity to earn coveted foreign jump wings.

This year, soldiers can earn wings from one of nine countries -- Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland and Sweden.

Denmark, Colombia and Sweden are participating in Toy Drop for the first time, officials said.

Last year, more than 4,000 soldiers earned foreign jump wings.

This year's jumps will begin on Thursday at Luzon Drop Zone near Camp Mackall, but most soldiers will need to wait until after Friday's lottery for their chance to jump.

Soldiers hoping to land a spot on jumps starting Saturday need to report to Green Ramp with hazardous duty orders, their Common Access Card, dog tags and a helmet.

Toy donations are not required. But if a soldier brings a toy, it should be new, in the package and unwrapped.

Doors to the passenger shed will open at 7 a.m. Those lining up early or spending the night are warned to prepare for low temperatures in the 20s. Once inside, soldiers will be given a raffle ticket and must be present to learn if they will be allowed on the jump.

Toy donations may be made at Green Ramp on Friday,  or in donation boxes across Fort Bragg starting Monday.

Last year, more than 250 soldiers assisted with Operation Toy Drop.

A similar number is expected this year and will include quartermaster units that assist with logistics, transportation and meals, as well as human resources, medical combat camera and public affairs troops. Three Air Force wings and an Army helicopter battalion will provide air support.

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(c)2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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