February 5, 2016, 10:05AM
On a crisp early December morning with a hint of winter to come in the air, hundreds of soldiers wait patiently in line at Pope Field’s Green Ramp, each of them bearing gifts for children they would never meet. All of them are there for at least one reason: to participate in this year’s “Lottery Day.”
For one soldier, this would be his second morning spent outside waiting for what has become a Fort Bragg tradition.
Army Staff Sergeant Micheal Tkachenko, a military police officer with the 65th Military Police Company, arrived for the 18th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop Lottery Day at 7:30 a.m. on December 3 -- a full day before the actual event. He and five other soldiers from his unit obtained their commander’s permission to attend Lottery Day early as an exercise of esprit de corps, as well as an opportunity to give back to the community, he said.
“It’s not just about yourself,” Tkachenko said.
Largest Combined Airborne Op
Operation Toy Drop, hosted annually since 1998 by the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, collects toys to be distributed to children in need during the holiday season. Operation Toy Drop is the largest combined airborne operation in the world. Since its inception, it has collected more than 100,000 toys for the community.
In addition to Lottery Day, Operation Toy Drop collects toys in a variety of ways, including the annual Operation Toy Trot 5k race and via donation boxes at the post exchanges. Almost 1,000 paratroopers came out for Lottery Day, which offers airborne soldiers a chance to win one of 500 opportunities to jump with a partner-nation jumpmaster and earn foreign jump wings.
“If we get wings, it’s an extra bonus,” Tkachenko said. “But it’s more or less about just being able to participate and give back.”
Operation Toy Drop impacts the community in a lot of different ways, he said. It not only gives toys to underprivileged children, it also shows the community that the military is motivated about giving back.
“The community supports us and we support them,” he said. “We’re there to help them, not just collect a paycheck.”
More Than a Paycheck
Army Specialist Andrew Wood, an MP with the 65th MP Company and a soldier in Tkachenko’s squad, agreed that, for his squad leader, it has never been about the paycheck.
“He really cares,” Wood said. “He’s one of the [non-commissioned officers in charge] that would honestly catch a bullet for his [troops]. And he takes care of them anyway he can.”
A self-proclaimed family man, Tkachenko’s devotion to his soldiers and the military are derived from this title.
“I know some say the Army comes first, family second, but in my mind, Army is family,” Tkachenko said.
Tkachenko waited almost 26 hours to receive a blue lottery ticket. The enthusiasm shown by the first 10 people in line led Army Major General Daniel R. Ammerman, commander of U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, to bestow the first 10 people in line with certificates of appreciation and reserved seats on a plane that will give them an opportunity to earn their foreign jump wings.
Wings or no wings, Tkachenko had no regrets about attending lottery day, he said.
“I don’t come here for the wings,” he said.
For Tkachenko and the rest of the soldiers who brought gifts and waited in line in anticipation of a Fort Bragg tradition, this time of year was an opportunity to bond with their fellow soldiers, give back to the community that has supported them and share in the spirit of the holidays.
On this day 74 years ago, the Japanese flung aerial torpedoes and bombs at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Thousands lost their lives and many others were injured during the attack. Today, we remember and honor those who sacrificed their lives and those who fought to preserve our nation’s freedom.
No one was expecting the first wave of bombs that came over the island of Oahu. The Japanese were dropping bombs into the ocean and watched them travel to the bottom of many ships followed by massive explosions.
The day Oahu was attacked, there were many losses. The attack had killed 2,390 people, left 1,158 Americans wounded, killed 49 civilians by friendly fire, destroyed 188 planes and sunk 21 vessels.
Just before the attack, “Target is 33 miles, 330 degrees” could be heard over the radio. Following this, the Japanese successfully destroyed eight battleships, three cruisers and three destroyers. The first telegraph that came through that morning to all military personnel said, “Air raid, pertinent air power, Hawaii.” That’s when everyone knew to prepare.
During today’s 74th commemoration celebration of the Pearl Harbor attack, reconciliation was the recurring theme.
“We began walking the path to reconciliation on the USS Arizona 74 years ago,” said Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., Commander of U.S. Pacific Command.
Another thing the commemoration touched upon was the sense of community. It is not only a friendship we have with Japan, but also a sense of family.
“Here in Hawaii, we understand the importance of family, ‘Ohana’,” said Rear Admiral John Fuller, Commander of Navy Region Hawaii.
Guests from across the globe showed up to today’s commemoration. The governor of Alabama was present as well as representatives from India and Japan. Unmistakably, World War II veterans and Pearl Harbor survivors were also in the audience today getting recognized by each guest speaker.
“A grateful nation applauds you today, as well as everyone here,” said Bob Sandla, the emcee of the event.
The USS Preble sailed across the harbor to honor the fallen, the survivors and all veterans at the ceremony. The destroyer also blew her horn rendering another form of honor for those who served during this time, 74 years ago.
The keynote speaker for today’s ceremony was professor and Pulitzer Prize winner David Michael Kennedy. He said he wanted to talk about the memories associated with “this place and this date.”
Sandla finished the ceremony with introducing a reverend for the benediction and a Marine Corps rifle salute.
We honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on this day and we recognize survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack.