CAMP MACKALL, N.C. --
The horizon above North Carolina was filled with paratroopers instead of snow as they ‘floated’ to the ground during the 19th annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop Dec. 5 - 16.
The Fort Bragg, North Carolina, community begins celebrating the holiday early every year by inviting their coalition partners to participate in the world’s largest annual multinational airborne exercise and to give toys to children in need.
“Operation Toy Drop supports the local community by giving underprivileged kids toys while also allowing international teams to enhance their parachuting capabilities,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joey Hauser, Jr., Operation Toy Drop Netherlands' host nation jumpmaster instructor. “The training is designed for domestic and foreign nations to build relationships to share knowledge and find better ways to conduct operations.”
Although giving back to the community is the event’s original intent, Hauser says it also focuses on paratroopers conducting airborne operations to hone their skills.
“The goal is to make sure that nations take back the lessons and knowledge learned here to their countries as they train to be more proficient jumpers and jumpmaster teams,” said Hauser. “This is accomplished as each nation implements their practices and partners with other nations. By training together, they familiarize themselves on a multitude of aircraft and standardizations, which can also lessen cultural barriers.
“Finding common ground is important, but it’s a big challenge to work in an environment with so much variety and strict timelines,” Hauser added.
Canadian, Dutch, Botswanan, Czech, German, Italian, Polish, and Singaporean armed forces worked alongside U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force units around the clock, getting accustomed to different languages and methods.
For U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Leanne McCombs, 824th Base Defense Squadron fire team leader assigned to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, it was pivotal to build rapport with partner nations during the 820th Base Defense Group’s first Operation Toy Drop.
“The ability to get an understanding while building trust and cohesion among [the U.S. Armed Forces] and other nations was important because it will allow us to perform better back home,” said McCombs. “Trust is the biggest factor for us, and if we have familiarity with a nation that we can depend on, it makes us more confident to perform in real world scenarios with exercises like these.”
For security forces Airmen assigned to the 820th BDG, their role is to primarily provide force protection on the ground, but they are also airborne capable. The chance to jump is rare at home station, which made this exercise exhilarating for McCombs.
“There’s a lot of excitement with an exercise like this because we don’t get to jump as often back home,” said McCombs. “This was also fun because there’s the serious focus to train but also the chance to enjoy the experience. Usually, when we perform jumps, there’s a follow-on mission or we have to parachute with heavy combat equipment with more at stake, but this was more enjoyable and relaxing. This whole experience has been awesome with all the different aircraft and people.”
Approximately 120 jumpmasters helped 4,000 paratroopers descend the skies under the parachute canopies. For Sergeant Daniel Jenkins, Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Center parachute instructor, the chance to share tactics and stories with others continues to forge the universal brotherhood experienced in the paratrooper world.
“The airborne community as a whole is like a family, no matter if you’re American, Canadian, Czech or Polish,” said Jenkins. “When we go overseas to conduct our business, whether it’s for combat or peacekeeping, we fight the mission, and the chance to come back here and share those experiences and build relations is very special. It’s been a great time for a great cause.”