Organization Revs Up Marine’s Christmas

By 1st Lt. Lawton King, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq, Jan. 3, 2007 – The magi here are stirring with envy over the gifts Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan Richards received in an Operation Gratitude care package. "This Dodge Caliber is yours," announced the first document he removed from the package after knifing it open in front of his fellow Marines.

"I was not expecting that whatsoever," the 19-year-old turret gunner from St. Louis said. "It was actually a car!"

"Don't lose it," one of the Marine said.

Richards continued to rifle through the contents of the box and methodically produced autographed hats, a DVD player, a flash drive, batteries, phone cards and scores of letters and notes from the home front.

Richards, a turret gunner with Regimental Combat Team 5's "Team Gator," received the belated Christmas package in the mail Dec. 29. The real present, though, is still awaiting his return to California.

"You have a lot of thank-you notes to write, my friend," another Marine bystander joked.

One of the notes informed him that several other gifts in addition to the automobile would be lavished upon him when he redeploys to the United States. He’s expected to redeploy to the State in the spring.

"Wait 'til the fiancee hears about this one," he said.

Operation Gratitude, an organization devoted to promoting the well being of U.S. troops abroad by mailing them care packages, sent Richards their 200,000th package. They celebrated shipping the milestone package by loading it with gifts ranging from a car to tickets to a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game.

Operation Gratitude is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program showcasing ways Americans are supporting the nation’s military.

"We're excited for the Marine," Team Gator's 1st Sgt. Mark Massey said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Massey earlier remarked that the package apparently endured "some trial and tribulations coming over here," though it remained intact and unopened.

The observation seemed apt and layered in meaning. The Marines themselves had returned from a mounted patrol earlier without incurring any casualties.

"It was a cold one, too," Richards said.

After he had emptied the box of all its surprises, Richards expressed his appreciation, which was echoed by Team Gator's leadership, and the Marines.

"These packages make deployments livable," Richards said. "The support is worth more than anything else."

"A young enlisted Marine got something for keeps. That's awesome," Massey said.

Capt. Eric Dominijanni, Team Gator’s company commander, acknowledged the impact of the gesture and its effect on the Marines present. "It really means a lot to know that people are thinking about us during the holidays."

Richards’ package was one of 56,305 care packages Operation Gratitude sent during its 2006 Holiday Drive that officially began on Veteran’s Day weekend and ended December 30th. The volunteers assembled an additional 1500 packages that they expect to send in January and February, as they receive additional requests, an organization representative said.

“This brings our overall tally of packages sent to 209,463 since we started in March of 2003,” Charlie Othold, Operation Gratitude’s director of operations, said. “We will have no problem hitting the quarter-millionth mark during our Patriotic Drive in the spring!”