*Editor’s note: This article was published as part of a content-sharing agreement between Army Times and The Fayetteville Observer.
FORT BRAGG — A Fort Bragg holiday tradition to promote training alongside a toy drive is rebooting after it was canceled three years ago, officials with the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command announced this week.
The 2022 Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop 2.0 will reboot “Fort Bragg’s largest collective airborne operation event” when more than 2,200 paratroopers descend from the skies.
The first Operation Toy Drop was organized in 1998 by Staff Sgt. Randy Oler, a soldier in the command who wanted a way to give back to the community during training.
The command is based at Fort Bragg and is the headquarters of four Army Reserve civil affairs commands, two psychological operations commands and a theater information operations group.
Oler suffered a fatal heart attack during a jump on April 20, 2004.
After his death, Oler’s family and friends in the Army community continued the event in his memory, collecting more than 100,000 toys over more than 20 years.
Oler’s friend, family and unit continued to coordinate the event each year after his death, until the commander announced in June 2019 that funding and training resources needed to be shifted to ensure the readiness of its subordinate units.
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Willie Wellbrook, Oler’s friend and emcee for past events, said he is ready to see the operation back after a three-year hiatus.
“It means the world,” Wellbrook said. “The dedication, the motivation, the giving speaks volumes. Sometimes it’s the specialists who don’t make a lot that bring in the best toys. That tells you who these people are ... I’ll be there for Randy. I’ll be there for Randy’s family. I always (kept) that promise that I made to keep his legacy alive.”
Operation Toy Drop 2.0 will be a weeklong training operation Dec. 5-12 and focus on airborne operation training and interoperability with partner nations.
During the training, soldiers may bring toys for donation to the Toys for Tots nonprofit organization to be dispersed to the local community.
Unlike previous years when a lottery determined the participants in the operation, this year’s slots are allocated by the command, officials said.
Soldiers will know in advance which days they will be jumping, and which partner nation they may be working with.
Currently, jumpmasters from eight partner nations will participate in Operation Toy Drop 2.0 to work alongside American soldiers.
As of Nov. 23, partner countries committed to participating include Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Thailand, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Officials said the event combines the efforts of the regular Army, Reserve and National Guard while allowing a partnership with Air Force aircrews from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, and Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, along with the Marine Corps Reserve who will manage the toy donations through the Toys for Tots program.