Operation Toy Drop: 19 years of bringing cheer to children

By Spc. Tynisha Daniel
December 23, 2016

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Every year U.S. and international service members conduct a joint airborne operation that provides toys to children who might otherwise not have any waiting for them under their tree on Christmas morning.

Founded by Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler in 1998, the Operation Toy Drop is also an annual training exercise that prepares Soldiers to support the military in theaters of operation around the world. Each December at Fort Bragg, U.S. and foreign paratroopers gather to conduct the charitable training and airborne operation.

In the years since the event's founding, more than 100,000 toys have been donated.

"[The operation] requires that Soldiers use their basic soldier's skills and functional abilities to remain combat ready," said Maj. Gen. Daniel Ammerman, commanding general, Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne).

The operation combines the efforts of active and Reserve support units of the Army and Air Force with those of foreign jumpmasters and civilian service organizations. It is an opportunity for U.S. Soldiers to train side-by-side with foreign partners, while also expanding their own experience and knowledge in airborne operations.

It is the largest annual combined joint training and airborne operation in the military, according to Ammerman.

"I have been a part of Operation Toy Drop since its inception with Randy [the founder]. We were friends for many years," said William B. Wellbrock a retired Master Sgt. with the Air Force. 

Even after Oler's passing in 2004, Operation Toy Drop has continued, thanks to the efforts of his Family, friends and the military. The operation is now in its 19th iteration.

"There are highlights in your military career where you work with great people," Wellbrock said. "One of my highlights was meeting Randy and working with him on Operation Toy Drop."

Contrary to popular belief, jumpmasters and paratroopers don't actually drop the toys when jumping from aircraft. Instead, they turn in their donated toys and receive lottery tickets. A Soldier whose ticket number is selected is then given the opportunity to jump. Some Soldiers stand in line with their toys for nearly 12 hours before the event in the hopes of receiving a lucky ticket.

The Soldiers, civilians, and family members who are assigned to USACAPOC(A) say they take great pride in the planning that goes into executing the event.

This year Sgt. Jesse Michel, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, Fort Bragg, North Carolina was among the first Soldiers to stand in line for the lottery ticket. It was his fifth year participating.

"As a child, my family [relied on] organizations like this, and I feel that it is my responsibility to give back to the community the way they have me," he said.

"I enjoy knowing I am helping those who are less fortunate."