What Is Operation Gratitude?
Imagine being stationed on the other side of the globe as a military service member and receiving a care package that contains things like:
- Snack foods you haven't seen in months
- Deodorant and other practical hygiene items
- A paracord bracelet
- A personal note telling you that you're appreciated.
All this from someone you've never met before.
This is what Operation Gratitude has been doing since 2003. They've sent well over 2 million care packages to active duty U.S. military members, first responders, veterans, and families.
This effort is supported by caring people across the United States that volunteer, donate, and assemble items for care packages. Last year alone, nearly 800,000 volunteers gave of their time to make it all possible.
Their goal for this year (2019) is to pump out 500,000 care packages to be delivered oversees and stateside. "We want every single serviceman or woman to know he or she is honored and appreciated," Schmiegel says.
What's in a Care Package?
When talking about what to put into the care packages, Kevin Schmiegel (CEO) reminds people that "Ultimately, a Care Package means more than the items themselves. The package itself reminds those men and women that we are thinking of them."
The contents of a care package might vary depending on who it is sent to. "We try to include certain items in every care package," Schmiegel says, "so those are really important—things like deodorant, energy drink mix, lip balm, and, indeed, paracord bracelets."
Beyond that, they like to include items like American snack foods and practical items like hand warmers to deployed soldiers. "We’re always grateful for handwritten cards," he adds, "because, as I said, they really mean a lot."
You can view the full care package wish list on their website.
Operation Gratitude was founded by and is currently run by people with strong personal connections to the military. This gives them first-hand knowledge of what kind of items are most appreciated. They've also received a ton of feedback from military members over the years, including many notes on specific items that have meant a lot to them. Read what they have to say.
How Can I Help?
At this point, many of you may be wondering how you can help. There are a couple of ways to get involved, including a special bracelet drive this summer.
- Get the Word Out: Tell people about Operation Gratitude. The more people that know about what they do, the more care packages they can send.
- Volunteer: Operation Gratitude would not exist if it weren't for its many volunteers. Here are some ways that you can give of your time:
- Work at an assembly day. If you live in the Los Angeles area you can volunteer for a monthly care package assembly day at their headquarters.
- Host a collection drive for care package items. Wherever you live, you can collect donations and ship them to Operation Gratitude to be included in care packages.
- Paracord Bracelets! Operation Gratitude sends a paracord bracelet in every care package sent. Keep reading for more information.
- Scarves, hats, cool ties, etc.
For more information regarding ways to give and what to make, see the Express Thanks page on their website.
We asked Operation Gratitude for specific ways our paracord-loving readers could get involved in giving back. Schmiegel let us know about an upcoming bracelet drive:
Starting on Flag Day, June 14th, and leading up to the 4th of July, we’re kicking off a 16-day challenge for individuals and groups to make as many red, white, and blue paracord bracelets as possible. We're challenging Americans everywhere to participate and show their support. So, even if you can't attend an assembly day, you can still donate bracelets or start a local drive and get your own community involved by visiting our website.
Their COO Paul Cucinotta can make 40 paracord bracelets in 1 hour! See if you can beat his record. Make as many paracord bracelets as you can in 1 hour and post pictures to social media with hashtag #beatpaul.
NOTE: Operation Gratitude doesn't use the standard cobra bracelet anymore. Instead, they make this round bracelet that is easier to tie, untie, and use than a cobra bracelet. Learn how to make them on their website or click the image above to view the Paracord Planet tutorial.
Word from a Soldier
Volunteers at Operation Gratitude get to witness firsthand the impact that their work has had on people's lives. Here's a note they got back from one care package recipient.
First I would like to say thank you for the bracelets that you are making and giving to soldiers… I have worn mine every day since getting it four months ago, as it is green, brown, black, and tan and matches my uniform. Well, the other day we were having an issue getting an oil filter off of a generator, because we don’t have an oil filter wrench. I took the bracelet apart and used it to wrap around the oil filter and used a screwdriver almost like a tourniquet to tighten up the cord on the filter and I got the filter off. On the thank you card I got with the bracelet, it said Operation Gratitude would send another if I used it. I was wondering if I could get a few more for myself and some of my soldiers?
Operation Gratitude did send him a new bracelet, by the way!
Have you donated to or volunteered with Operation Gratitude before? Tell us about your experience below. If you haven't consider participating in their upcoming bracelet drive or getting involved in another way to support our troops, first responders, and their families.