Toy Drop History

Operation Toy Drop: a dream turned into reality

Dozens of parachute silhouettes against the North Carolina sky are nothing out of the ordinary around Fort Bragg, but each December since 1998, Airborne operations have taken on a different meaning to America's men and women in uniform with the Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop.  An annual opportunity for Fort Bragg's military community to help families in need over the holidays, Operation Toy Drop combines the efforts of Army, Air Force and civilian service organizations in a truly unique event.

Operation Toy Drop, the world's largest combined airborne operation, is a week-long, philanthropic project where Fort Bragg's paratroopers (or visiting paratroopers from across the nation) individually contribute new, unwrapped toys to be distributed to children's homes and social service agencies.

Despite the project's name, these toys are not "dropped" anywhere except into the arms of deserving children throughout the region. The drop is actually a daytime, non-tactical airborne operation supervised by foreign military jumpmasters – a rare treat for participating Soldiers who relish the opportunity to earn a foreign nation's "jump wings".

Masterminded by then-Staff Sgt. Randy Oler in 1998, Operation Toy Drop started as a relatively small-time success backed by some big-time coordination.  Oler's dream of incorporating Airborne operations, foreign military jumpmasters and local charities was a tall order, but Oler was never one to shy away from a challenge.  He approached his commanding general within the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) with the idea and was given the green light to spearhead the project.

That December, after eight months of planning, the first annual Operation Toy Drop had been completed on a wing, a prayer, and Oler's handshakes across several organizations.  It was small, and only a small number of toys had actually been raised - but it was a start, and from that point on Oler had a foundation to build on.

Over the following years, Operation Toy Drop expanded to include aircraft support from Pope Air Force Base's 440th and 43rd Airlift Wings, and welcomed the participation of Soldiers from Fort Bragg's XVIII Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division. These Soldiers’ enthusiasm to participate in the budding holiday tradition greatly outweighed the number of jump slots available.  With limited space on the planes, the project's organizers arranged to draw names of participating Soldiers at random to fill the slots. The name drawing has become one of the main spectacles of Operation Toy Drop, where hundreds of Soldiers crowd together for the chance to hear their ticket number called, no matter how long the wait.

Each iteration of Operation Toy Drop has brought in more toys for children in need.  Even as the military mobilized and deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism, those who remained stateside continued the tradition.  In 2001, each child who lost a family member in the Sept. 11 attacks received a toy raised in the following December's Operation Toy Drop.
As the war broke out, Oler remained at the helm of the operation.  By April of 2004, he'd been promoted to Sgt. 1st Class and was finishing up an assignment at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.  Even as the USACAPOC(A) commanding general was fighting Oler's relocation orders, which would take him away from Fort Bragg, Oler was starting to get the ball rolling for Operation Toy Drop, 2004, which was less than eight months away.

Oler had warned his colleagues that he might not be around for what would have been his seventh year running Operation Toy Drop.  Sadly, he was right, but not due to any relocation orders.  On April 20th, 2004, Sgt. 1st Class Randall R. Oler suffered a heart attack while performing jumpmaster duties aboard a C-130 aircraft.  At 43 years old, Oler was pronounced dead at Womack Army Medical Center.  The Tennessee native had joined the Army in 1979 as an Infantryman, spending time in Ranger and Special Forces battalions throughout his career, and had deployed in support of Operations Desert Storm, Provide Comfort and Joint Endeavor.

Oler's humanitarian spirit built Operation Toy Drop from the ground up, and it's only appropriate that the following December, his dream-turned-reality was dubbed the Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop by those who had worked so closely with him over the years. The void left by Oler's death was a difficult one to fill – Oler had run the operation from memory for six years.  With no written notes to work from, key players scrambled to make the connections that Oler had worked from his head over the previous years.

Operation Toy Drop has collected and distributed more than 75,000 toys – from bikes, to dolls, to video game systems – for families and children in need.  2011 marked the first year Operation Toy Drop went national - with Army Reserve units in California, Texas, Louisianna, Missouri, New York, and Washington participated in collecting and distributing toys in their local community as part of Operation Toy Drop.
 
USACAPOC(A), a subordinate of the Army Reserve Command, has had control over Operation Toy Drop since Oler, a USACAPOC(A) Soldier, initiated the event in 1998.  Oler's passion for helping those in need is echoed again and again among USACAPOC(A)'s nearly 10,000 Army Reserve Soldiers, whose civilian experiences play important roles in their units' missions overseas.  By conducting civil-military projects and humanitarian assistance efforts, USACAPOC(A) Soldiers are making non-lethal contributions to global peace and stability across the world. 

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