Tag Archives: Operation Gratitude

Bayside students thank soldiers from home

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Melissa Chan

Three soldiers from Queens and Long Island got a hero’s welcome Monday when they paid a visit to a Bayside school.

Students from P.S. 130 welcomed the trio of military men on November 25 with armfuls of letters and a homemade flag with each child’s handprint, thanking them for their service.

Working with a nonprofit, volunteer corporation called Operation Gratitude, the youngsters wrote 150 letters and collected 126 pounds of candy and 150 toothbrushes to be sent to deployed military men and women.

This is the third year the school has helped the initiative.

“It means a great deal to me and other soldiers, serving overseas,” said Master Sgt. Robert Frame, one of three guests. “There are very tough times in combat, and it’s easy to kind of get lost in the challenges and rigors of war. When you receive letters from all these kids, from schools back home, it really lets you know what it is you’re fighting for.”

Frame, 33 of Albertson, Long Island has been in the Army for 15 years, having served two tours in Iraq. He is in charge of cadet operations at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point.

Frame fielded question after question from the curious bunch. Then two Queens Navy recruiters — Rocky Ramdyal and Wubin Emerson Liao — showed their captivated audience a life vest that inflates upon impact.

Ramdyal, an aviation electronics technician, is entering his 16th year with the Navy. The Woodhaven native, last stationed in Hawaii, became a recruiter in downtown Flushing last year.

Liao of Elmhurst, also a recruiter, is a logistics specialist, serving nearly six years with the Navy. He did a four-year tour of duty in Japan before returning home.

“Getting letters from students means a lot more than getting letters from your parents, who know what you’re doing,” Ramdyal said. “When you’re in a war zone area, when you see that letter saying, ‘thank you,’ it means a lot because it’s like our job isn’t going unnoticed.”



Students show soldiers their ‘gratitude’

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Students at a local Bayside elementary school have not forgotten their troops.

Youngsters at P.S. 130 have written more than 250 letters and collected some 180 items, along with 59 pounds of candy, to send to deployed military men and women as part of Operation Gratitude — a nonprofit, volunteer group’s mission to assemble and ship care packages to soldiers serving overseas.

“When you’re on a long deployment and you get some letters and cookies, it means a lot,” said Staff Sergeant Clayton Kramer. “When you’re in a rural part of the world, it’s easy to feel forgotten. When you see a care package show up from a school, it lets you know that what you’re doing means something to people.”

Kramer, a veteran of the United States Air Force and California Air National Guard, paid a visit to the tiny benefactors during a school assembly on November 10 to explain his role in protecting the country. He was joined by retired Marine Sergeant Matthew Engelhardt, who dumped out his rucksack and invited kids to test out the military equipment.

“It’s wonderful to educate the kids and explain to them what we do,” said Engelhardt, who served for eight years. “It’s wonderful to get letters out there, knowing that the kids appreciate what you do.”

This is the school’s second year participating, said Assistant Principal Laurie Careddu. Students in pre-kindergarten through third grade collected toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste and candy, wrote letters and decorated banners for the troops.

Kramer served in the Air Force as an aerospace maintenance crew chief and a signals analyst before joining the 129th Rescue Wing. Engelhardt was deployed twice to Iraq and had two tours in Okinawa, Japan.

The pair, who was showered with letters of thanks upon their drop-by, said the gratitude was touching.

“It actually kind of brings a tear to the corner of your eye,” Kramer said.

P.S. 130 first graders get a visit from real-life heroes

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan.

First graders at P.S. 130 were able to meet their heroes face-to-face before kicking off their letter writing campaign in support of soldiers serving overseas.

Students at the Bayside school have committed to a three-week long initiative — part of Operation Gratitude — in which the school’s 75 first graders will write letters, while the rest of the student body collects candy to be sent to deployed military men and women. So far, the school has collected 109 pounds of candy.

Operation Gratitude is a nonprofit, volunteer corporation that assembles and ships care packages to soldiers who are currently serving in all areas of the world, including the Middle East, Afghanistan, Africa and across international waters. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than 660,000 packages.

“It’s wonderful that we’re able to help,” Principal Michelle Contratti said to the eager group of first graders during the small school assembly on Wednesday, November 9. “They fight for us so that we can live in a better world.”

Longtime members of the military, Sergeant Alberto Caceda and Staff Sergeant Samuel Cottes visited the newly-minted Blue Ribbon school with a slideshow of photos from the places they’ve been deployed, as well as military equipment for a quick show-and-tell session.

Cottes — whose military experience spans 25 years — explained to the attentive group of youngsters that while soldiers are away fighting for the country, they give up warm, comfortable beds for sleeping bags and trade in pets for bats and huts for homes.

“Appreciate what you have — your homes, your family,” Cottes said. “Sometimes I spend six months to a year away from home, and I miss it a lot.”

Cottes has spent five years in the New York National Guard, 15 years in the Army Reserve and five years with the Air Force. Currently with the Air Force, he coordinates the medical logistics for soldiers and civilians who live in the areas to which he’s been deployed — including Korea, Germany and Panama. He just returned from a tour in Mozambique, Africa.

Caceda — a military member for 10 years — then dumped out his rucksack and showed the students a variety of military equipment, including canteens, packages of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), wet weather clothing, range finders, binoculars, goggles, arm pads, helmets, ponchos and protective vests.

He then invited the kids to stand up and take turns trying on the equipment.

“When you guys write us letters and show that you remember us, it makes us really happy,” he said to the kids. “It makes us feel good. A lot of the time, we really miss home. Your letters and packages bring us up.”

Caceda, who has been deployed to Iraq twice since 2005, told The Courier that during his last deployment, the one letter he received from a child kept him going during a low point he reached while overseas.

“I was really sad because I wasn’t home. The letter helped me get through it. It got me fired up. It made me want to do my best, so that I could come home,” he said, adding that he hung the letter up to constantly remind him of his goal.

“It makes us feel warm, and sometimes the guys really miss that. It’s so great when the letters are from kids,” he said.

Caceda has spent two years with the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea and four years with the 10th Mountain Infantry in Fort Drum, New York. He was later assigned to the New York Army National Guard in New York City.

The visit from the national heroes couldn’t have come at a better time, said Principal Contratti.

The first graders just completed a lesson dedicated to celebrating moments of courage found in every day life — both big and small.

“These are real life heroes,” she said.

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan. Sergeant Caceda dumped out his rucksack for show-and-tell.

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan. First graders at P.S. 130 happily hid under the camouflage army blanket.