(News release by 2nd Lt. Sylvia Thomas, Public Affairs Officer, 378th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion)
Surrounded by cheering and clapping comrades, Spc. Samuel Mancilla, a motor transport operator assigned to the 1072nd Transportation Company, 378th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade received Operation Gratitude' milestone 800,000th care package on August 15, 2012.
Through their individually addressed care packages, Operation Gratitude hopes to lift morale and put smiles on faces. Founder Carolyn Blashek was able to hear firsthand how the package received by Mancilla did just that.
"He was so excited about the package, that he called me from Afghanistan, right after he received it, to say 'thank you,' and he asked me to thank every single Operation Gratitude volunteer and donor," Blashek said.
"It puts a smile on my face because it's more than an honor to be a recipient of something like this," Mancilla said. "It's uplifting to see the support and feel the love."
Mancilla, a Simi Valley, California resident, deployed to Afghanistan in March 2012 from his home state. To him, the package is more than just a gift; Mancilla said it is a blessing.
The 1072nd Transportation Company recently suffered the loss of a fallen Soldier whom Mancilla knew well.
"When you're deployed, your comrades are like family," Mancilla said.
Just 24 hours after the death of the fellow soldier, Mancilla received news about the death of a family member back in the states. While making plans to go home for the funeral, Mancilla was told he could stay home because his company would be returning to the United States shortly. But Mancilla's sense of loyalty and duty called him to return to Afghanistan and join his company.
"It just didn't feel right staying home when everyone else was in Afghanistan," Mancilla said. "When I returned home for good, I wanted to do so with my unit."
After the funeral, Mancilla rejoined his company in Afghanistan and, to his surprise, was called forward during a formation. His Commanding Officer and First Sergeant handed him a care package. The milestone Operation Gratitude care package could not have been given to him at a better time.
"It felt good to come back and receive this special care package," said Mancilla. "I haven't grasped it all yet. I just can't believe how everything's worked out. It's like finding the good in the bad."
The package he received included many generous donations: a portable DVD player, a digital camera, a web cam, a week vacation donated by a long-time Operation Gratitude volunteer Shirley Landau, and keys to a custom-built Orange County Choppers' motorcycle donated in partnership with SJO Foundation for Hope and Torque Sports & Performance.
Mancilla (pictured here holding a letter from his care package) plans to join Operation Gratitude, SJO Foundation for Hope, and Torque Sports & Performance to unveil his new OCC motorcycle at Operation Gratitude headquarters in Van Nuys, California on December 15, 2012.
Operation Gratitude packages have been supporting deployed troops since 2003. The non-profit corporation is driven by hundreds of thousands of volunteers and donors who are deeply grateful for the sacrifices being made by service members.
"I'm thankful to know there are committed volunteers that take time to let Soldiers know their appreciation," Mancilla said. "With everything that has happened in the past few weeks, it seems surreal. I'm happy and I'm honored."
About Operation Gratitude: Operation Gratitude annually sends 100,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in harm's way, to their children left behind, to Veterans, to Military families and Veterans in financial distress due to unemployment, to Emergency First Responders and to Wounded Warriors recuperating in transition units. The organization's mission is to lift morale, bring a smile to a service member's face and express to our Armed Forces the appreciation and support of the American people. Each package contains donated product valued at ~$125 and costs the organization $15 to assemble and ship. For safety and security, assembling of packages occurs at the Army National Guard armory in Van Nuys, California. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than 800,000 packages to American Military members and their children.