Students commend armed service members with Operation Gratitude

Junior Cailee Zukauskas writes her personalized letter to a member of the Armed Forces. “I think [Operation Gratitude] is important because a lot of people don’t realize the things that [soldiers] go through to serve for us,” Zukauskas said. Photo by Troi Howell.

On February 14th, Oswego East students participated in a nationwide initiative called Operation Gratitude, where they wrote letters to people in the armed forces during their 2nd and 3rd period classes. 

Operation Gratitude was founded in 2003 by Carolyn Blashek. It was created as a way to bridge the gap between civilians and their military, and it sends over 300,000 individually addressed care packages, including personalized letters, to active duty service men and women.

Students wrote these personalized letters to the soldiers during the 3rd period of Friday’s half day, after watching a video about the impact that these care packages have on the soldiers receiving them. 

Some students took the opportunity to simply share details of their own lives as a means of creating a connection with the intended recipient of the letter. Others simply thanked the service women and men for their service to the country, including a personalized image on the front of their card.

After watching the video, Junior Cailee Zukauskas reflected on the meaning of Operation Gratitude.

“It means letting the people in the service know that what they’re doing really matters to us,” Zukauskas said.

Freshman Ava Hagmeyer shared her belief that the sacrifices the military makes are typically unrecognized. 

“I think that they don’t really get as much gratitude as they’re supposed to, and I think that it’s good to just … give back and show them that we do appreciate all that they do for us,” Hagmeyer said.

Hagmeyer added that she has a personal connection to the armed forces and that giving back is a great way to show people in active duty that they are being supported.  

“I have a lot of family in the military, and I think that it’s kind of just a way to give back to what’s put out there,” Hagmeyer said. “They work so hard and a lot of people [don’t] realize the pain that they go through in being away from their families, and sacrificing everything for us to have our own freedom.”

Social Studies teacher Sarah Radziewicz reads the official Operation Gratitude website. “I think it’s a really great way, especially on these shorter days, to fill it with something meaningful instead of just sitting,” Radziewicz said. Photo by Troi Howell.

Junior Cormac O’Connell said that Operation Gratitude hits close to home for him because he has had family in the armed forces.

“It’s important because my dad was in the army, he was a part of a cavalry unit,” O’Connell said. “It hits close to home.”

A lot of people throughout the United States are personally affected by war, and East students are no exception. Freshman Abby Esposito said that the army has an impact on everyone, even the people who are left at home.

“I think that the army has a wide… influence on people. Everyone knows someone who’s been in the army, and a lot of people’s [families] take a lot of pride in it,” Esposito said. “But I don’t know if everyone realizes that they really are gone for months at a time, if not years, and what that really does to people.” 

War has the potential to leave lasting impacts on the people who serve, and the trauma endured while serving has been known to cause disorders like PTSD. Social Studies teacher Sarah Radziewicz said that students have the tendency to forget about troops, even though their struggles last long beyond their time actively serving. 

“I think a lot of times, even if it’s not an active time of war, students tend to forget about troops,” Radziewicz said. “I think it’s a really good opportunity for us to come together as a class, as a community, and as a school, to express our thanks for people around the world.”

To make the experience more personalized, some teachers, like Social Studies teacher Rebecca Walters, told personal stories about how war has impacted them. Walters said that she told her students about how some of her family has fought in the war, and opened it up to give the students a chance to share their experiences.

Rebecca Walters’ 2nd period class watches an informational video about Operation Gratitude and it’s mission. “I did tell my students during the video that I have two nieces and two cousins currently in the military. I also asked the students if they have any family currently serving and how hard it is for them to be separated. A few students could relate,” Walters said. Photo by Troi Howell.

Members of the armed forces fight to protect American freedoms, and Art teacher Laura Cavanaugh added that many freedoms are taken for granted.

“I think that we take for granted that we have the freedoms that we do, and people don’t really think about how [it] happens,” Cavanaugh said. “It happens because we have people placed all over the world protecting us. I think it’s good to let students know that it’s not an easy job and to really appreciate what they have.”

“I think that the army has a wide influence on people. Everyone knows someone who’s been in the army, and a lot of people’s [families] take a lot of pride in it, but I don’t know if everyone realizes that they really are gone for months at a time, if not years, and what that really does to people.”

— freshman Abby Esposito

Students filled the cards with words of encouragement, heartfelt thank you’s, and information about themselves. Hagmeyer said that she was hoping that her words could show the recipient that she is understanding and appreciative.

“I think just thanking them a lot [is important] and just telling them a little bit about myself and how I have family in the military and how I understand that it’s one of the toughest jobs that you could have,” Hagmeyer said.

Senior Luke Wentz said that he thinks that writing the cards provides students with a rare opportunity to show appreciation for people who are overseas. 

“I’m just going to say thank you and tell them about myself and try and really encourage them and be appreciative of the things they do,” Wentz said. 

Radziewicz said that Operation Gratitude provides students with a meaningful way to spend shortened days like last Friday.

Senior Emma McKillip also added that she’s happy the school started participating in Operation Gratitude and that it gives students a reason to think about things and people they typically don’t.

“I’m really glad that the school started doing this because I wouldn’t be involved in stuff like this [otherwise], and I really wouldn’t think twice about the people who are serving,” McKillip said.

Troi Howell is a Co-News Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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