How One Woman’s Desire to Thank Service Members Led to More Than 1 Million Thank-Yous
Today we feature an interview with Operation Gratitude founder Carolyn Blashek, conducted by Good Citizen founder Brad Jamison. Both are winners of the Daily Point of Light Award, which celebrates the power of the individual to spark change and improve the world. Know an outstanding volunteer? Nominate him or her as a Point of Light.
Carolyn Blashek’s simple desire to say “thank you” to U.S. service members – Operation Gratitude – has led to the delivery of more than 1 million care packages to both active duty members of the armed forces and veterans. Brad Jamison interviewed Blashek to learn more about her and her volunteering efforts.
Jamison: What moved you to form Operation Gratitude?
Blashek: After 9/11, I felt driven to do my part in the war on terror. Although then a 46-year-old mother of two living in the suburbs of Southern California, my first thought was to join the military. I quickly found out I was too old for duty (I was rejected by all the recruiting stations!), so decided I needed to show my appreciation and support to the men and women in the military who would bear the brunt of the conflict.
I started volunteering at the military lounge in the Los Angeles airport. One day in March 2003, a soldier came into the facility and asked to meet with a chaplain; none were available so he spoke to me.
He was on leave from a war zone for his mother’s funeral. His wife had left him, and his only child had died as an infant. He had no one else in his life.
“I’m going back over there,” he said. “For the first time in my 20-year career, I don’t think I’ll make it back this time, but it really doesn’t matter, because no one would even care,” he told me.
From that conversation I began to realize that when bullets are flying, it’s critical for troops to know that someone at home cares about them as an individual. How could I show I cared?
When my children were young, they went to sleepaway camp for two months every summer. I wrote to them every day, and once a week, I’d send care packages with reminders of home so they knew I was thinking about them.
As the build-up to the war in Iraq accelerated, I wanted the troops in harm’s way to know I cared about them, too, just as if they were my own children. Within two weeks, Operation Gratitude was born.
Jamison: What has been the best part of your experience with Operation Gratitude?
Blashek: The greatest gift I have received from Operation Gratitude is the opportunity to meet and get to know so many extraordinary members of the military and to learn about fortitude, courage and leadership from them.
Equally as rewarding has been the experience of working side by side with so many great Americans – our volunteers and staff – who are dedicated to the troops and passionate about our cause.
Jamison: How do you encourage others to help and give of themselves?
Blashek: We share with our supporters all the wonderful letters and emails that we receive back from the troops and their families thanking us for the care packages. Their words and sentiments are the greatest motivation to volunteer that I have experienced.
Jamison: What does helping others and being a good citizen mean to you?
Blashek: I am very blessed with family, friends and the freedom to pursue happiness. That freedom is guaranteed by the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States.
To me, being a good citizen means recognizing their service and saying “thank you” every chance I get. Through Operation Gratitude, I can express my appreciation every day, and provide the opportunity for all Americans to do the same.