“I’ll be Home for Christmas,” the infamous Christmas song made famous by Bing Crosby in 1943 (and re-recorded by every artist known to man since then) is a staple of the holiday musical scene. Those that have done their Wiki-homework know that it is a tune sung from the viewpoint of a WWII solider still serving overseas during the holiday season.
Appropriately enough, that little Christmas fun fact allows me to transition into a topic that is extremely important to me. This past Saturday, I spent the day with my NBFF Tracy – you know her as Hot Nerd Girl – volunteering my time for an organization called Operation Gratitude (note it has its own page on my blog).
Operation Gratitude is a non-profit started by Carolyn Blashek as a way to send care packages individually addressed to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines deployed in harms way, as a way to help lift morale for those whom can’t be home with their loved ones. It’s a cause that definitely hits home for me as my Grandpa Edmund Isaac had served in the Korean War and my cousin most recently spent four years in the Navy.
The USPS packages themselves consist of candy, DVDs, books, 5-Hour Energy bottles, hygiene products, toothbrushes, scarves, playing cards and any other little necessities and for fun items you can imagine. During the holidays, these types of packages mean the world – literally – to a solider whom often times has been away from their family and friends up to the better part of a year.
I know this first hand from several servicemen I’ve talked to through Operation Gratitude and from those I’ve met while working events with my company, Active Country. As I point out to all of my AC customers, I provide 5% of my Active Country profits to Operation Gratitude every year, and I’ve had several customers whom have actually served overseas tell me what an incredible feeling it is to receive the individual gift packages from the organization.
Of course, some credit needs to be given where it’s due, as I never would have heard of the outfit if it wasn’t for my amazing NBFF Hot Nerd Girl. Thanks to her introduction, I have been donating my money and time to Operation Gratitude for the past six years… especially during the special holiday packing event.
What’s the Holiday packing event you ask? You ask excellent questions. Each year, Operation Gratitude literally assembles and ships out 100,000 care packages to service men and women all over the globe. Come the holidays, the next 100K milestone is usually met with a grand push with several hundred people more than usual filling the National Guard Armory out in Van Nuys, CA. Homer (papa Outlaw) joined in the festivities this year and my grandma even joined the cause a few years ago as well.
The milestone package is usually a random choosing and contains some extra special trinkets, like vacations, cars, motorcycles, and $1,000 gift certificates… yeah, not too shabby. I’ve even snuck in some of my Active Country merchandise into the special packages the past few years. This year marked the 900,000th package and the 800,000th package recipient was on-hand and honored during a special presentation.
Everyone is in the holiday spirit as music is played and streams of people assemble boxes along two large assembly lines of gratitude goodness. In all but one year, Tracy and I have been box fillers greeting the package movers as they push the boxes through the packing process. We both enjoy the positions since it allows us to be our overly friendly and geeky selves as we banter with the box pushers.
Of course Tracy and I were also quick to spot and chat with some fellow nerds in line sporting items like a Harry Potter scarf, Bill Murray holiday shirt as well as some Batman threads as well. With Operation Gratitude’s headquarters being so close to tinsel-town, the holiday pack-a-thon has also become a popular turnout for a handful of celebrities and entertainment groups each year.
Disney sends a group of its “Volunt-Ears” every year, and the past few holidays have seen the likes of such names like Patricia Heaton, Cindy Crawford, Ben Affleck, Kevin Sorbo, Sean Astin and many more.
This go-around, one of the first names to show their face was Michael Reagan. While not a standard celebrity in the Hollywood sense, Michael is the adopted son of former president Ronald Reagan and he was there representing the service personnel currently stationed on the S.S. Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier. It just so happened Hot Nerd Girl and I worked the line assembling packages for that ship.
Operation Gratitude also got help from a large production crew from CBS’s Criminal Minds, including the ever-charming star of the show, Joe Mantegna. When I introduced myself, I was sure to let him know my favorite artistic work of his is that of the lovable mobster Fat Tony from The Simpsons. He kindly responded with a quick retort in the character’s voice.
For those around my age – or a few years wiser – will remember one of the other familiar faces that is most know for a show named after a snack food, which revolved around a couple of motorcycle cops. Mr. Eric Estrada definitely brought many smiles to those in the armory all morning long. I’ve also come to the conclusion he found the fountain of youth.
The most interesting moment of the day came in the afternoon, when founder Carolyn Blashek asked Tracy and I to take a new young packaging recruit under our wings by the name of Charlie, whom she mentioned – under her breath – just so happened to be Jon Cryer’s son. Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere (or just don’t know his real name) Jon Cryer plays the goofball leech opposite Ashton Kutcher (formerly Charlie Sheen as well) on CBS’s hit TV show Two and a Half Men. It wasn’t long before Jon soon joined his son Charlie (interesting name, no?) in the packaging line right next to us!
While I planned on playing it straight to the vest in his presence, Tracy sent me an unbelievable softball when she mentioned to Jon his son was adorable. After thanking her, I quickly followed up with the response, “He truly is… so who’s his dad?” After getting a genuine laugh and smile, I got the chance to chat briefly with Mr. Cryer a few times and of course made sure to let him know how much my Grandma loved his show and that it was her favorite…. yes… you heard me right, my GRANDMA.
Without missing a beat he smiled and said I had no clue how many grandma- and grandpa-aged viewers have told him that it’s their favorite show as well. He continued by saying he really couldn’t believe it either based on how crude and raunchy the humor is, but apparently they love it! Who says senior citizens have lost that wild little spark? Apparently my Grandma’s still got it!
Suffice it to say, both Jon and his son were both incredibly nice and they seemed to truly be enjoying the experience of working with such a great cause.
Alas one of the major highlights of the day was the appearance of about 10 or so very attractive ladies from the Playboy organization. While I don’t think they were all models – and I could be wrong – they were definitely all very nice to look at… err, I mean meet as they passed by in line. Both my dad and I repeatedly told them they were our favorite part of the package line movers as we simultaneously put the wrong amount or completely forgot to put any products in each of their boxes as they walked by. As they say, like father like son.
All in all it was a long, but very personally rewarding day for the Outlaw and well worth the time, as it is every year. No matter what your political affiliation may be, the men and women that volunteer to sacrifice their well-being to help protect this country and our personal freedoms is something that should never be taken for granted. The selflessness of giving up time with loved ones and putting oneself in harm’s way on a daily basis is what allows us to live in a country that lets us think, debate, invent, live, and geek out on our own terms. For that, I’m forever grateful.
If assembling some packages helps to bring smiles to some of our service men and women overseas during the holidays, then consider me ‘geeked out’.