More than 1,000 Fort Bragg paratroopers jumped from C-130 aircraft and helicopters for a good cause Wednesday and Thursday as part of the 82nd Airborne Division’s second annual All-American Presents from Paratroopers — A2P2 for short — holiday toy drive.
Of the jumpers, 600 were selected in a raffle that was held Monday. To enter the raffle, each paratrooper donated a toy to the Travis Mills Foundation, which served as the division’s liaising partner. The foundation will distribute the more than 1,500 donated toys to charities around the state of North Carolina, including the North Carolina Children’s Home Society, the Armed Services YMCA, the Fort Bragg USO, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department, and the Fayetteville Urban Ministry.
Overseeing the donations was retired Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, founder of his eponymous foundation and a quadruple-amputee combat veteran of the 82nd who deployed three times while with the unit. Since his medical retirement following wounds sustained in his third tour, he has devoted his life to charity work benefitting veterans, including employment programs and counseling programs.
“I remember the excitement and the joy I got from being able to be part of [Operation Toy Drop, the predecessor of A2P2],” said Mills in a phone interview during the toy donation. “Being able to come back for this –– it’s humbling, and it’s definitely an honor.”
Jumpers selected in the toy lottery had the privilege of earning foreign paratrooper wings by jumping under the supervision of a foreign jumpmaster.
“It’s all the rage…plus you get to talk about your charity, your giving back to the community,” Mills said of wearing foreign wings,
In a pre-jump interview, one American jumpmaster, Army 1st Lt. Blake Wilson, discussed the experience of preparing for a jump with a Chilean jumpmaster.
“He [the Chilean] is going to be giving his commands in Spanish,” said Wilson, who was slated as assistant jumpmaster for his aircraft. Paratroopers typically repeat commands given to them by their jumpmaster, but Wilson explained that his troops would “sound off in English. It would’ve been fun to try to teach them Spanish, but it would have taken a little too much time.”
This year’s jumpers had the opportunity to earn Chilean wings, which troops are authorized to wear on their dress uniforms, but Wilson said that the wings were less important than giving back to the community.
“It’s great to get your foreign [wings] and all, but [A2P2] has a bigger purpose: giving back to the community and being able to bring the unit together…and that’s what brings us all joy,” said Wilson, who donated a brand-new kids bike to secure his place in the jump.