Episode Show Notes:
Welcome to the "Militarily Speaking" podcast with Tom McLean and Jodi Vickery.
In this episode of “Militarily Speaking,” Tom, Jodi, and guest Carolyn Blashek, founder and interim CEO of Operation Gratitude, shares how they massively impact the lives of U.S. service members and their families, and she shares heartwarming stories of each care package and the significance of each letter from the recipients.
“Militarily Speaking” is a podcast produced by Armed Forces Bank that is dedicated to the military lifestyle and all the things that makes military community who they are.
Ep. 36 – A Grateful Nation: The Story Behind Operation Gratitude with Carolyn Blashek
In this podcast episode, Carolyn Blashek, founder and interim CEO of Operation Gratitude, shares the inspiring story of how the organization came to be and the tremendous impact it has had over the years. Born out of a deep sense of gratitude and a commitment to support those serving in the military, Operation Gratitude began as a grassroots initiative that has now blossomed into a nationwide movement.
The Story Behind Operation Gratitude
Carolyn recounts her journey, starting from a deeply emotional encounter with a soldier at a military lounge in LAX, which became the turning point that ignited her mission to make a difference. This soldier, feeling alone and unappreciated, revealed the stark reality of many service members' lives, prompting Carolyn to find a way to show her gratitude and ensure that every soldier knows they are cared for.
This realization led Carolyn to create Operation Gratitude, an organization dedicated to sending care packages to soldiers overseas. Initially working alone, she started by sending packages filled with snacks and personal care items, including handwritten letters expressing her appreciation for their service. What started as a personal project soon caught the attention of fellow citizens and transformed into a nationwide effort.
Tom and Jodi also highlight the significant recognition Operation Gratitude has received, including invitations to the White House and the prestigious Minerva Award. Despite the recognition, the real testament to the organization's success is the countless lives it has touched.
Sending Care Packages to Troops
One remarkable incident at a Costco store demonstrates the early stages of Operation Gratitude and the immense support it received from ordinary citizens. When Carolyn was buying supplies for care packages for troops before the invasion of Iraq, other shoppers, moved by her cause, started handing her money to support her endeavor. This spontaneous act of kindness from strangers demonstrated the nation's sentiment towards the troops at that time.
Carolyn managed to send about 650 packages before enlisting the help of a Staff Sergeant at an armory in Van Nuys. Her approach was grassroots and deeply personal, with every package containing a letter from her expressing her gratitude for their service.
The conversation also touches on the changing sentiment of the nation before and after 9/11, indicating how the level of support for the troops has fluctuated. While the visibility of troops in the public eye may have diminished, Carolyn and Operation Gratitude continue their mission to support and uplift those who serve.
Operation Gratitude's Success and Corporate Partnerships
Operation Gratitude's astounding success can be attributed to Carolyn’s astute business acumen, her indefatigable passion, and her commitment to the cause. She strategically established a dual mission for Operation Gratitude. Firstly, the organization aimed to express heartfelt gratitude to service members. Secondly, it sought to provide every American citizen an opportunity to show their appreciation to our service members. This unique approach created a platform where people could unite and give back to those who protect their freedom.
Carolyn wisely leveraged corporate alliances to gather resources and propel Operation Gratitude forward. These partnerships enabled the organization to extend its reach and increase its impact to have nationwide movement.
Tom comments on how Carolyn’s leadership set an exemplary standard. Her passion, dedication, and selfless service inspired the volunteers and instilled in them the same values. As a result, Operation Gratitude became more than an organization. It transformed into a movement driven by unity, respect, and gratitude.
Letters and Care Packages for Troops
In this section of the podcast, Carolyn recounts a poignant moment in her journey with Operation Gratitude, specifically when she was making her son's care package. This particular experience took place amidst hundreds of volunteers, adding a palpable sense of community and unity to the task. This, according to Carolyn, is one of the defining moments of the Operation Gratitude initiative – not only does each care package serve a practical purpose for the recipient, but the process of assembling these packages also fosters a sense of community and shared purpose among those involved.
Carolyn then shares a deeply moving letter she received from one of the care package recipients. The letter illustrated how each care package not only uplifts the spirits of the recipient but also serves as a heartening reminder of the support and appreciation that exist for them back home.
She notes that that Operation Gratitude is actively archiving all the letters they receive from the troops. Carolyn’s recollections serve as a powerful reminder of the incredible impact a single act of kindness can have when amplified by the power of community and shared purpose.
Jodi introduces the Military Minute segment of the show, beginning by closing out last episode’s Military Minute.
- Last episode’s Military Minute: Which actor was offered the role of Jack Dawson in Titanic, but turned it down?
- Answer: Johnny Depp
- This week’s Military Minute question: What is the name of the poem that was the inspiration behind wearing red poppies on Memorial Day?
- Watch for Facebook and Instagram posts about this episode.
- Answer with the correct answer and you plus a charity of your choice can each win $50.
Tom closes the episode by asking listeners to go to www.afbank.com and subscribe to the show, as well as leave a rating and comment on your favorite podcast platform such as Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
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