Carolyn Blashek was in shock, like many of us, on 9/11. She was searching to find something that would assuage her concerns. Her decision was to enlist in the Army. The Army recruiter took one look at this then-46-year-old, 5’ 5”, and 115 lb. woman, and suggested she find another way to channel her energies. That recruiter definitely saved Islamic terrorists from a severe thrashing.
Looking for something to fulfill her commitment to help, she volunteered at the military lounge at Los Angeles Airport. Ms. Blashek had a unique experience with a particular soldier on leave, one who really had no family at all. It became clear what the soldiers in war zones really needed – which then became her mission – was to help our best men and women believe that someone here in the homeland actually cared.
Starting in her home, Carolyn created something different – and special. Her objective was to send each soldier an individually addressed box that included not only helpful items, but also a handwritten note. This is not an easy task to accomplish. She has to get the names and the locations of our soldiers which is something the military does not hand out willy-nilly. The decision to release this information is left to the commanders in the field or on the ships. You see, these packages are meant for the men and women in harm’s way -- those that most need to know that we sincerely care – and deeply appreciate what they are doing for us.
From the days in 2003 and 2004 when you would visit Carolyn’s house and be greeted by a wall of boxes, the operation has really changed. Operation Gratitude has taken over the Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys, California. I stopped by recently and what I saw there made me particularly proud to be American.
At first glance, it looks like Santa’s workshop three days before Christmas. You are stunned by the mass of people hard at work on an assembly line. Almost 1,000 volunteers (no one at Operation Gratitude gets paid) are busy working away on this season’s goal of sending 70,000 boxes to our brave souls in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who would have thought this could happen in California, the heart of blue-state America?