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America Supports You: Group Delivers Liberty Ahead of Patriotic Holiday

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2008 – A California-based group will fulfill the promise of a major milestone today, as a soldier at Fort Lewis, Wash., receives a free Jeep Liberty.

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Army Spc. Michael Gallagher, a vehicle commander from Company A, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis, Wash., opens a care package given to him by Operation Gratitude on Forward Operating Base Warhorse, Iraq, Jan. 22. Gallagher received Operation Gratitude's 300,000th care package, which contained the keys to a 2008 Jeep Liberty. Photo by Army Pfc. Kirby Rider

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude, accompanied by Charlie Othold, the organization’s volunteer director of operations, personally presented a milestone care package to Army Spc. Michael “Shaun” Gallagher in Iraq, but the package’s main cargo wouldn’t fit into the box.

"Carolyn and I were honored to travel to Iraq earlier this year to personally hand our 300,000th care package to Specialist Gallagher at Camp Warhorse in Baqouba," Othold said.

That milestone package contained symbolic keys to the new vehicle Gallagher would receive upon his return home.

"We are thrilled that he and his comrades have returned home safely and that we can give him this appropriately named vehicle, the Jeep Liberty, in time to celebrate America's Independence Day on July Fourth," Othold said.

Today’s presentation of the specially designed 2008 Jeep Liberty provided by Chrysler wraps up Operation Gratitude’s record-breaking 2008 “Patriotic Drive,” which took place over Memorial Day weekend.

While the Jeep presentation certainly is a high note for Operation Gratitude, it wasn’t the only one that came out of this year’s Patriotic Drive.

The first high occurred when a Marine’s sister, surrounded by more than 500 cheering volunteers, packed Operation Gratitude’s 350,000th care package at the National Guard Armory in Van Nuys, Calif., during Memorial Day weekend.

"This package represents the extraordinary generosity and efforts of our supporters, American citizens from every state of this great nation," Blashek said. "Their donations of time, ‘wish list’ items, and funds for postage have enabled us to send more than 2.8 million pounds of product and over 17 million individual items to our brave [servicemembers] fighting on the front lines."

Surrounded by 70 volunteers, Blashek paid special tribute to fallen warriors and their families who have made the ultimate sacrifice. She thanked the organization’s more than 300 corporate friends and sponsors and acknowledged the dedicated and cooperative efforts of other all-volunteer organizations.

“We are most proud of the tens of thousands of Operation Gratitude volunteers across the country," said Bill Van Trump, Operation Gratitude's volunteer director of development. "Week after week, month after month, year after year since … March 2003, [they] have toiled tirelessly to ensure that every servicemember deployed overseas knows they are always foremost on our minds and will never be forgotten."

Operation Gratitude will send its 400,000th care package on Dec. 13 during the organization's annual holiday drive. Collection of food, personal and comfort items, and letters and cards for this effort begins in September.

Operation Gratitude is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad. Chrysler is a corporate supporter of the Defense Department program.

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Related Sites:
Operation Gratitude
America Supports You

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Spc. Michael Gallagher, a vehicle commander from Company A, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis, Wash., reads a letter from Jeep informing him that he is the recipient of a 2008 Jeep Liberty on Forward Operating Base Warhorse, Iraq, Jan. 22, 2008. Operation Gratitude gave the Jeep to Gallagher to mark the 300,000th package the organization has sent to troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Photo by Army Pfc. Kirby Rider  
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