JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
(Editor’s note: Last names were omitted for security reasons)
For some, the holidays are a time of giving and an opportunity to express one’s gratitude. For one Airman, he expressed his gratitude by organizing 1,200 care packages be hand delivered to San Antonio veterans Dec. 21, 2017.
Senior Airman Jared, a 93rd Intelligence Squadron cryptologic language analyst currently assigned to the 502nd Air Base Wing Honor Guard, chose delivering care packages as a way to show his appreciation because of what the packages represent.
“It represents the whole heart of the operation,” he explained. “I wanted veterans to know we are thinking about them and they are still very much appreciated. That was the whole reason behind this and I feel it was overwhelmingly successful based on the feedback we received.”
Five hundred packages were delivered to the San Antonio Military Medical Center and Center for the Intrepid, 200 packages went to the Audie L. Murphy Veteran Affairs Hospital, 200 to the Army Residence Community, 200 to the Wounded Warrior Project, and the remaining 100 went to the Join Base San Antonio-Lackland Fisher House.
The project first began from Jared’s strong feelings to give back to veterans and to show his appreciation for their sacrifices — sacrifices his family was familiar with.
“I have looked up to veterans ever since I was a little boy,” Jared said. “My grandpa served, my dad served and even family members prior to that — we have a pretty long history of service in our family.”
One of Jared's relatives was killed on D-Day. He spent quite of bit of time researching this and was able to locate the grave stone.
“We (his family) went to Arlington Cemetery and just seeing those rows of crosses … was breath taking and surreal experience,” he said. “All those people at one time fought to preserve our freedom. It made me proud … and I feel like we should honor and respect not just those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but anyone who put their name on the line to serve our country.”
Being assigned to the JBSA Honor Guard helped fuel Jared’s passions to serve veterans.
“Being the one to carry the service member to their resting place, doing the military honors with the flag, and being a source of solace in the family’s time of grief is incredible and emotional, especially the presenting of the flag to the widow,” Jared explained. “It really changes you.”
Jared searched for ways to support the local veteran community until he connected with the vice president of Operation Gratitude, who offered to help Jared’s efforts by donating all the care packages.
Operation Gratitude, according to their website https://www.operationgratitude.com/, seeks to lift spirits and meet the evolving needs of the U.S. military and first responder communities, and provide volunteer opportunities for Americans to express their appreciation to all who serve.
Each package contained snacks, hygiene products, entertainment and handmade items. Also included in the packages were personal letters of support.
Along with the 1,200 care packages, they handed out about 300 flags and 200 lapel pins that were donated. Approximately $20,000 worth of goods were distributed throughout the veteran community.
“I couldn’t have done it all on my own; it would have taken weeks to hand them all out I am really glad and fortunate for [all the volunteers],” Jared said.
The 433rd Airlift Wing from JBSA-Lackland and more than 20 volunteers assisted with the project. The 433rd AW provided a hanger to temporarily store the packages until they were able to be delivered to the veterans.
As volunteers distributed the packages, veterans expressed their gratitude for more than just the packages.
Some told the volunteers “‘just the fact that you are here taking the time out to do something like this means more than can be expressed in words,’” Jared recalled. “Some were getting emotional. It was perfect because I wanted to connect on a personal level, meet the people that we were serving and let them know that they were not forgotten.”
Jared plans on organizing this event again and reaching to an even greater amount of veterans.