Junior enlisted troops celebrate holidays at Operation Toy Soldiers
Story and photos by Spc. Michael Camacho
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachement
13th Sustainment Command (Expenditionary) Public Affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — More than 400 service members attended Operation Toy Soldiers to celebrate the holiday season with gifts, games, music and food, on Christmas Day at Morale, Welfare and Recreation center east at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
The Joint Program Office for Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, 402nd Army Field Support Brigade hosted the event, which was open to all service members at JBB.
Operation Toy Soldiers was designed to bring the spirit of the season to the troops who are deployed overseas, said Jaime Hollis, operations adviser with the Scientific Application International Corporation and JPO MRAP, and a Lake Charles, La., native. Most junior enlisted Soldiers are serving their first deployment overseas for the holidays, he said.
The team wanted to show its appreciation for these Soldiers by organizing an event focused on them, said Robbie Thomas, an engineer with JPO MRAP.
Thomas, a Sterling Heights, Mich., native, said Operation Toy Soldiers received support from the JBB community in a variety of ways.
The 332nd Expenditionary Force Support Squadron donated food and drinks, said Thomas, and noncommissioned officers from other units throughout JBB volunteered their time to help with the event, which included games such as "Jeopardy," "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?" and "Family Feud," with prizes for the winning teams.
"Everybody had fun, had some laughs, had a little bit of competition between branches and a good time," said Thomas.
Troops received stockings stuffed with donated candy and letters of thanks from citizens in the United States, she said.
Being away from home during the holidays is difficult for anyone but, for the younger service members, it can be harder, said Lt. Col. Andrew Simpson, a government lead for JPO MRAP in Iraq.
Operation Toy Soldiers served as a reminder to service members to look at the bright side and make good memories of their deployment, he said.
"For many Soldiers, it can be the first time they're away from home on Christmas," said Simpson, a West Alexander, Penn., native. "(Operation Toy Soldiers) was a great way to thank them for their service and make the day special for them."
Thomas said the event also featured Santa Claus. While not posing for photos, Santa passed out gifts to service members who correctly answered trivia questions, she said.
Simpson said being Santa and passing out gifts to the junior enlisted Soldiers added to his experience.
"They really seemed to enjoy it," he said.
The activities and competitions built camaraderie between battle buddies and members of other services, said Spc. Ernesto Acosta, a cargo specialist with the 159th Seaport Operations Company, 80th Ordnance Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expenditionary).
"I like the way they put these events together to build morale for the troops and everybody else that isn't home for the holidays," said Acosta, a Santa Cruz, Calif., native. "It's a good way to pass the time and enjoy yourself without being around family, but amongst friends."
Hollis said, with the success of Operation Toy Soldiers, JPO MRAP looks forward to sponsoring future events to support the troops at JBB.
Pvt. John Sims, a mechanic with the 547th Transportation Company and a Washington native, and Theo Johnson, a property book technician with Joint Program Office Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles and a New Orleans native, sing "Silent Night" at Operation Toy Soldiers at Morale, Welfare and Recreation center east Dec. 25 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Camacho)
Santa, played by Lt. Col. Andrew Simpson, a government lead for Joint Program Office for Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, 402nd Army Field Support Brigade in Iraq and a West Alexander, Penn., native, and Jaime Hollis, operations adviser with the Scientific Application International Corporation and JPO MRAP, and a Lake Charles, La., native, ask a group of junior enlisted Soldiers trivia questions at Operation Toy Soldiers at Morale, Welfare and Recreation center east Dec. 25 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Camacho)