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Ask a soldier the meaning of giving
Notes from an almost-military wife
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Yesterday I witnessed something extraordinary — my first Army Airborne jump.
It was truly an awe-inspiring sight. Seated in a row of bleachers on the edge of the massive jump field, I could hear the buzz of the planes overhead before I could see them. The buzz grew fainter as the planes climbed and then gradually came into view above a far corner of the field.
As I watched, I could see more and more planes appear above me, crisscrossing the sky. Suddenly, almost faster than I could grab my camera out of my purse and focus it, the bright, cloudless blue overhead was dotted with dozens of camo-green circles trailing in a diagonal line. The circles grew closer, and I could gradually make out parachute lines, then arms and legs of individual soldiers. After they landed, I watched the soldiers walk, and sometimes run, down the path from the landing site on the far side of the field toward the bleachers.
The jumpers had remarkable amounts of gear strapped to their backs and chests but despite the extra weight, they moved quickly and with a sense of purpose.
The jump I watched was part of an event at Fort Benning called Operation Sleigh Ride. It was not an ordinary training operation. As part of a joint operation between American and Canadian paratroopers, parachutists from Army and Air Force installations across the Southeast were invited to participate in a jump that would earn them honorary Canadian jump wings. But there was a catch — in order to participate, each paratrooper was required to bring a toy to donate to Santa’s Castle, a charity that provides Christmas presents to children of Fort Benning soldiers who otherwise would not be able to buy gifts for their children.
 Before the soldiers left for their jumps, American and Canadian commanders stressed to them the importance of their generosity. As one American commander said, the day was not just about receiving another set of wings to decorate Class A dress uniforms. The day was really about brotherhood and about giving back to the community.
I couldn’t agree with him more. Though the commander’s words were moving, the huge pile of toys displayed in a life-sized wooden sleigh in front of the bleachers spoke much louder than anything he could have said.
I’m sure the participating soldiers were happy to receive another set of jump wings — the participant limit placed on Operation Sleigh Ride by organizers is evidence the wings are in high demand — but it was their toy donations that truly gave the day a deeper meaning.
Watching the soldiers drift to the ground amid a backdrop of toys, I was moved by the generosity and dedication they displayed. Dedication not only to their units and to the Army, but also to the community and children of their fellow soldiers, many of whom they may never meet.
For those outside the armed forces community, it’s easy to assume that our military is only about fighting and war. But for me, attending Operation Sleigh Ride added a whole new dimension to my understanding of what it means to serve your country as a soldier. And what I saw had nothing to do with war, and everything to do with giving.
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