Operation Gratitude Volunteer Coordinator, Penny Alfonso summed up the day simply, "It was a day of laughter, tears, and patriotism."
Cpl. Clancy Colt Cheek gratefully took ownership of the special gift presented to him by Robert Pandya, External Relations Manager of Victory Motorcycles.
Cheek, the recipient of Operation Gratitude's 600,000th care package, is a member of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment and returned to Camp Pendleton earlier this spring after a deployment in Sangin, Afghanistan. During the deployment, the 3/5, also known as the "Darkhorse" Battalion, endured heavy combat and losses, including the death of Cheek's best friend, 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Alec Catherwood, of Byron, Illinois.
Pandya told Cheek he was proud to represent Victory Motorcycles and speak on his co-workers' behalf. "The motorcycle community has always cherished the 'Freedom to Ride,' a privilege guaranteed by the efforts and sacrifice of our heroes in the Military," he said. "We all thank you for what you, and every member of the Armed Forces have done for those of us lucky enough to live in the United States of America," he said.
Cheek expressed his heartfelt thanks for the motorcycle and for the dedication of the Operation Gratitude volunteers and supporters. Responding to a young woman who called him a hero, Cheek recalled the Marines who did not return from Afghanistan. "I'm no hero," he said. "Heroes are those men who stood beside me in the Valley of Death and gave their lives for freedom."
Operation Gratitude founder, Carolyn Blashek, said Cheek was the perfect person to receive this gift as a representative of all members of the U.S. Military. "Cpl Cheek was humble and incredibly gracious in accepting the Victory Motorcycle,"
In commemoration of the anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's passing, Michael Reagan, his wife Colleen, and son, Cameron, along with representatives of the Reagan Legacy Foundation participated on the Assembly Line to create care packages for the 5,000 crew members deployed aboard aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, named in honor of the 40th President of the United States.
Reagan, the President's son, read a letter he had received that morning from the Commanding Officer of USS Reagan, Captain T.W. Burke. "Care packages from home are always a welcome surprise and we appreciate everything that Operation Gratitude does to support our Military," Burke wrote.
Care packages were also assembled and shipped to the crew of guided-missile destroyer USS Preble and guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, both currently serving in the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.
Councilman Dennis Zine presented beautiful City of Los Angeles Certificates of Appreciation to Cheek; Reagan; Victory Motorcycles;
Operation Gratitude volunteers will continue to assemble and ship its Patriotic Drive Care Packages through June.
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About Operation Gratitude
Operation Gratitude annually sends 100,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in harm's way, to their children left behind, and to Wounded Warriors in Military hospitals and Transition Units. The organization's mission is to lift morale, bring a smile to a service member's face and express to our Armed Forces and their families the appreciation and support of the American people. Each package contains donated product valued at ~$125 and costs the organization $15 to assemble and ship. For safety and security, assembling of packages occurs at the Army National Guard armory in Van Nuys, California. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than 640,000 packages to American Military deployed overseas.