RELEASE NUMBER: 140107-02
DATE POSTED: JANUARY 7, 2014
Operation Toy Drop brings presents for the holidays to kids
By Staff Sgt. Ricardo Branch
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (USASOC News Service, Jan. 7, 2014) – In the early morning hours, a small company worth of soldiers brave the icy frost and cool weather for a routine airborne operation.
All through the ranks, the soldiers begin to stretch and work their muscles as the start of the operation is upon them.
Suddenly a man dressed in red velvet with a loud booming greets the soldiers, signaling a change in routine.
“Merry Christmas Night Stalkers!”
Soldiers from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) “Night Stalkers,” conducted Operation Toy Drop, a special holiday-themed jump in time for the Christmas holidays Dec. 11 at Fort Campbell, Ky.
“Every year, Fort Bragg, N.C., conducts a similar toy drop on their installation,” said Capt. Jonathan Peifer, 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR. “We wanted to give an opportunity for our Night Stalkers here to show their character and take care of members of their local community.”
The idea soon manifested into Operation Toy Drop, an airborne operation and toy collection drive for soldiers to donate presents for children in the Fort Campbell and surrounding areas.
Staff Sgt. Paul Black, a jumpmaster also with 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR and resident Santa Claus for the jump said the toy drop serves as a good occasion for members of the unit to give back.
“It’s very important to help out the community at this time of year, because it’s Christmas time, and the season is all about giving and not receiving,” he said.
During the event, soldiers arrived to the compound for initial manifest with their donated toy in hand. Once their name was called, the individual dropped his toy into a container for boys or girls, before gearing up and departing to the jump site.
“We have 96 jumpers for this operation,” Peifer said. “Each one of them brought a gift and some more than one … it’s a true testament of their character.”
Once on site, soldiers prepped and double-checked each other’s equipment before moving out to an awaiting MH-47 Chinook helicopter for the airborne jump.
“Airborne operations, much like any training over time, becomes second nature and routine for soldiers,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Pecor, a soldier also with 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR. “Jumping for a cause, however, is what makes them different and special for soldiers … we even have two soldiers dressed as Santa jumping.”
Once in the air, the trip lasted approximately two minutes to reach jumping altitude before the command is given for soldiers to exit the aircraft and soar through the air to the field below.
“It’s a lot of fun doing these events,” said Black, one of the two Santa jumpers. “This is actually one of the few units I’ve seen that allows soldiers to dress up for the holidays and jump in Santa suits. I dressed up not just for the holidays but for the kids of my fellow Night Stalkers watching this jump.”
In total, more than 100 toys were collected for distribution first among military families experiencing financial difficulties and the rest out to the many local charities in the city of Clarksville.
Although soldiers were able to jump without donating a toy, any who didn’t would be placed on a “humbug pass” list.
“Fortunately, we didn’t have any 'Scrooges' in this operation,” Peifer said. “In truth, I didn’t think we would but I threw out the “humbug” pass just for extra incentive.”
He went on to explain that once he read a letter to the soldiers from someone who will be distributing their toys to children, any possible reservations of gift giving went out the window.
“Hearing that their charity will be well received and is going to an actual need within the community helped make the jumpers feel better about donating as well as freezing during the operation,” Peifer said.
As the day drew to a close and the final soldier jumped from the aircraft, the spirit of the holiday season could be felt on all the participating jumpers and the toys sent out in their name. For the soldiers who jumped, the consensus was the same and summed up best by Peifer.
“Being a soldier is tough,” he said. “Being a soldier that recognizes a need and how we can help those less fortunate is just a part of being a Night Stalker.”