Paratroopers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, helped donate 2,000 toys to children’s charities across the state this week.
The donations were part of the 82nd Airborne Division’s “Presents from Paratroopers” event, a scaled-down version of Operation Toy Drop that was previously hosted by U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, but was discontinued last year to reallocate training resources.
This event was “in the same spirit” as Operation Toy Drop, several division officials said.
“Leadership saw that there was gap and an opportunity — at least for this year — take up the mantle in the spirit of past years," said Maj. Timothy Crawley, deputy division chaplain.
Paratroopers who donated toys received a raffle ticket for the chance to jump from CH-47 Chinook or UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, rather than the C-130 and C-17 cargo aircraft they’re more familiar with.
The lottery also offered the chance for paratroopers to earn foreign jump wings.
In total, 1,003 soldiers jumped Dec. 2-3 onto Sicily drop zone. About 300 soldiers earned German jump wings, and 359 earned Chilean jump wings, which are awarded to paratroopers who jump under the supervision of foreign nations’ jump masters.
“The lines were so long on the first day for the donations,” Crawley said.
“So many of the people in that line knew that they weren’t going to get the chance to jump,” he added during a telephone interview. “They still stood out there in the cold for several hours. It was like a reverse Black Friday line.”
The toys were distributed across North Carolina by the Travis Mills Foundation to non-profits like the Fisher House Foundation, the USO and local sheriff’s departments.
The Travis Mills Foundation is a non-profit serving veterans wounded in Post 9/11 wars. It was founded by a retired paratrooper from the 82nd who lost portions of his arms and legs from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
Foundation representatives flew a team into North Carolina for the event and completed toy deliveries Thursday.
“What surprised me was this event started taking on a life of its own,” Crawley said.
“There were various other units on post, that didn’t participate in the jump at all, as well as other organizations that, when word got out, did their own toy drive and then linked up with us and donated their toys," Crawley added.
While the jump was “in the same spirit” as Operation Toy Drop, there was also a focus on “readiness," according to 82nd Airborne Division spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Burns.
“When we’re looking at spending thousands of dollars on an operation, we have to bring it back to readiness,” Burns told Army Times.
“Anytime our paratroopers are able to exit an aircraft it increases the readiness and lethality of the division," he added. “Even fun events like these help prepare us for training exercises like Defender Europe 2020."
The 82nd is sending more than 1,000 paratroopers to execute simultaneous joint forcible entry operations across Europe as part of the exercise.
Defender 2020 is expected to deploy the equivalent of a heavy division from the U.S. mainland this spring in what will be one of the largest military exercises on that continent since the Cold War.
Despite its success this year, however, it’s still too early to tell if the Presents from Paratroopers event will transform into a new annual tradition to replace Operation Toy Drop.
Kyle Rempfer was an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.