Operation Gratitude for Our Troops


Despite the noogies and constant bickering, siblings have a special bond. However, for one young person this was tested when she learned her baby brother would be enlisting.

Emily Rich, the oldest of three, couldn’t fathom the thought of Steven, her then 18-year-old brother, joining the Marines.

“My immediate reaction was ‘HA, No,’ said Rich. “The thought of him voluntarily putting himself in harm's way was, to me, something I couldn't quite understand.”

The 25-year-old explained that it wasn’t until she saw how serious Steven was about this decision—reading every Marine Corps book, studying tactics and artillery— that the realness of it hit.

“It wasn’t just a phase,” Rich stated. “This was his dream and he was going after it in an unstoppable manner. As soon as I realized that, I couldn't have been prouder of him.”

A past DoSomething.org 9/11 Remembrance grant winner, the Los Angeles resident banded together with her community to run an Operation Gratitude drive. The non-profit organization looks 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 through its care packages.

“If you ask me, Operation Gratitude was born Sept. 11, 2001, when Carolyn Blashek (founder), mother of two high schoolers, marched into her nearest recruiting office and attempted to join the armed forces to defend her country,” shared Rich. “Her present and unconditional patriotism is nothing short of inspiring and admirable.”

Rich relayed that one of her most rewarding memories through the organization was shortly after Steven was deployed to Afghanistan. “For the first time we were not volunteering for someone else's brother, son, or friend,” said Rich. “We were packing a care package for our Steven.”

The 25-year-old shared that there were feelings of pride and happiness as she, along with her family, walked Steven’s care package down the assembly line—shaking hands with friends and other family members, as they placed items into his box.

“Knowing that the very box we touched and held (and Mom even kissed) was going to be opened by Steven himself was enough to make us feel worlds closer to him,” stated Rich. “That is an undeniably powerful feeling and one that I will treasure always.”

The University of Colorado at Boulder graduate, who has been working for non-profits since graduation, believes that there’s ALWAYS something more teens can do.

“If you think of a cool idea that could make even one person's life a little easier, run with it! And don't stop at the finish line,” said Rich. “In the words of Margaret Mead, ‘never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’”

“I believe in those words with all of my heart. And volunteer! Your heart, and those you volunteer for, will thank you,” she added.

To date, Operation Gratitude has sent 763,758 care packages to service men and women worldwide.

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