Operation Santa Express brings smiles to unsung heroes
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea -- The Garrison Command and the Directorate Emergency Services (DES) delivered a 'Holly Jolly Christmas' by bringing Christmas Stockings and goodies to the Area II First Responders working on Christmas Eve, December 24th.
Operation Santa Express is an annual event encouraging and bringing holiday cheer to those who hold down the fort during the holidays. Ricky Oxendine, DES Director, has conducted this seamless appreciation to the people who have relinquished their holiday for others since 2007. It was then when he came up with this idea to appreciate them who protect not only the Garrison, but all of Area II, even at 'the most wonderful time of the year.'
"The whole intent for Operation Santa Express is to show our appreciation for what they (the first responders) do 24-hours a day, seven days a week. They are protecting the community's health, life, and safety. They are our unsung heroes," said Oxendine. "This is my way of showing how much we care for them, and for what they do." Oxendine said.
Col. Maria P. Eoff, Commander, USAG Yongsan, and acting command sgt. Major, Master Sgt. Sean R. Sparks -represented the Garrison Command Group. They along with Oxendine, and members of the DES -- some dressed as Santa and Elf -- delivered boxes and stockings of gratitude. With the first destination being the Yongsan Fire Department, the crew carried their journey on to the Yongsan Emergency Room, Helipad, Itaewon Police Office, the Yongsan Military Police Station, and the Consolidated Mailroom. They didn't stop there. Their 'cheer train' reached all the way out to the gate guards working at the more-than-twenty gates in the Garrison. This year being the 8th anniversary of the project, Oxendine had this to say to the service providers who give up their holidays to protect the Garrison.
"In our line of business, we don't necessarily get to be home when everybody else is enjoying their holidays. We don't get to relax at our biggest holidays. We are here to say thank you for what you do, for your relentless work, and show up a little bit of our appreciation for the thing that you do," Oxendine said.
Eoff, who took command last summer, shared her feelings and gratitude to each and every person of the many Garrison first responders she and the group gave a visit to.
"We don't say thank you enough. We do it during Thanksgiving. We do it during the times of giving. But I think, more so, we need to thank every single one of you for all you do. People don't see a lot of the things that you do. Very invisible, but very powerful and very impactful. I hope that Santa continues to bring you all blessings. We need every single one of you here. Thank you, and merry Christmas to you all."
What started as a small donation event, where the gifts were not as much as homemade cookies, Operation Santa Claus has now grown bigger than Oxendine ever imagined, receiving donations from not only the service members and their families, but reaching out further to the Commissary, the PX and more. When asked on his future plans about this operation, Oxendine replied;
"I'm very passionate about this program and what it does. It is what I have started, and I have a lot of affection for what it has become. We can never be sure about the future, but I can tell you one thing; as long as I am here, there will always be an operation Santa Express."