What makes Carolyn so special is that she actually tried to enlist in the military, an act considered quite brave on its own merits but even greater in Carolyn’s case since it meant leaving behind a son and daughter not even in high school. Although at 46 she was above the age limit set for active duty, Carolyn was not deterred, and instead volunteered at the Los Angeles airport military lounge so she could give her support to soldiers as they boarded planes bound for Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Over the next two years as she volunteered at the LAX military lounge, Carolyn met thousands of soldiers leaving for duty overseas, and began to realize what every soldier really needed was the knowledge that there were people at home who appreciated the sacrifices he or she was making on our behalf. Remembering how the care packages she had sent would boost the morale of her homesick children at summer camp, Carolyn came up with the idea of sending packages to deployed soldiers. So in 2003 when Carolyn sent her first care package to a soldier serving in Iraq, Operation Gratitudewas born and began its journey towards becoming the remarkable organization it is today.
During the early stages of Operation Gratitude, Carolyn used her own living room as a staging area and solicited friends and volunteers from her community to help. Soon the project grew so large that she enlisted the help of the National Guard in Van Nuys California, who graciously offered the use of their Armory to store and put together the thousands of care packages shipped every year. Over the years, support for Operation Gratitude has been so overwhelming that the number of volunteershas grown to the thousands, all of whom help to collect donated items, write letters of support to soldiers, or put together packages to ship overseas.
Contained within each care package are food, snacks, toiletries, entertainment items, and letters of appreciation and encouragement personally addressed to an individual service member. In the nine years since it began, Operation Gratitude has delivered more than 786,000 individually addressed care packages to soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, and is expected to reach its goal of one million care packages in the next two years.
Carolyn’s efforts have received the full backing of the U.S. military; and the responses from soldiers receiving the care packages show that Operation Gratitude is a tremendous success. As Carolyn has explained, there are many ways to thank those who make personal sacrifices and put their lives on the line so the rest of us can enjoy liberty and freedom. For the deployed soldier who endures long deployments away from home and threats from hostile enemies, a personalized letter and package from someone who expresses appreciation for what they are doing can mean a great deal, and make a real difference in helping them to get through a very stressful time in their life.
A Sample Response
Even though you may not be able to see it for yourself, your love and support pushes so many soldiers farther than you could imagine
I am Specialist J.H., an Army Combat Medic and Female Engagement Team Member for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. I am currently located in Southern Afghanistan and recieved your package approximately a week ago. I just wanted to send you an e-mail to let you know how truly thankful I am for all that you do! Your supplies were extremely wonderful and useful. Also, even though you may not be able to see it for yourself, your love and support pushes soo many soldiers farther than you could imagine. Just to know that we are supported and appreciated by members back home, helps keep us motivated while we are here. Again, I just wanted to send you my true appreciation and gratitude!
Love Always, J.
On this Memorial Day, I consider it a real honor to feature Carolyn’s amazing story. Her journey has been one of resolve and dedication, and it shows us what one person can accomplish when they’re motivated to work for the greater good. Like the first rays of sunlight that pierced their way through the rising smoke and ash on that tragic September day, Operation Gratitude has become a shining beacon of hope by showing those who defend our way of life that their efforts and sacrifices are greatly appreciated, and that even in the most horrific tragedy the strength and goodness of man will always shine through and prevail.
Carolyn, your actions personify the art of making a difference in ways words cannot adequately express. Your desire to do something turned into the creation of one of the most successful support programs in U.S. military history.
Find out how you can help support Operation Gratitude.