Guardsmen and Reservists have been incredibly busy with humanitarian efforts in recent months, responding to devastation caused by numerous hurricanes and wildfires. But this holiday season, many have also found time to spread a little holiday cheer.

Such holiday goodwill is far from new. In November and December of 1965, during the Vietnam War, members of the Georgia Air National Guard and other Citizen Airmen across the country participated in Operation Christmas Star, an effort to distribute donated gifts to service members in Southeast Asia. Nearly 80 Air National Guard aircraft participated in the operation, distributing 400 tons of gifts. The operation was an outgrowth of American generosity —  citizens had donated so many gifts to the armed forces that normal supply chains were overwhelmed.


A U.S. Army ground crew unloads Christmas gifts from a Georgia Air National Guard C-97. The aircraft was one of approximately 80 Air National Guard planes to participate in Operation Christmas Star. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Lee Estes/Released)

Fast-forward to today: Against the backdrop of recent natural disasters, numerous Guard and Reserve units are providing another kind of humanitarian aid this holiday season, distributing gifts to families in need, visiting schools, and giving back to their military brethren.

The following examples just scratch the surface of holiday cheer being spread this season by our nation’s Guard and Reserve.

New York National Guard Troops help deliver Trees for Troops

Air Force Master Sgt. Jennifer Dippo, a member of the New York Air National Guard, right, helps load donated Christmas trees with volunteer New York National Guard soldiers and airmen and local veterans. (Army National Guard photo by Capt. Jean Marie Kratzer)

The New York National Guard participates in “Trees for Troops

On Nov. 27, New York National Guard airmen and soldiers volunteered their time to fill up a delivery truck with donated Christmas trees bound for military families. This is the 13th year that the National Guard troops turned out alongside veterans and Patriot Guard Riders to assist in the nationwide Trees for Troops initiative.

Paratroopers give back with Operation Toy Drop

Hundreds of U.S. Army and foreign airborne troops gathered in Fort Bragg, North Carolina Dec. 1-2 to get in some airborne training and provide Christmas cheer to local children during the 20th annual Operation Toy Drop.

The Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop is an annual tradition at Fort Bragg. Hosted by the Army Reserve and the Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, participating soldiers conduct an airborne operation with foreign jumpmasters. During the event, the American soldiers jump with an unwrapped toy or stuffed animal that would be donated to local underprivileged children.


An Army Reserve combat medic providing support for the 20th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop watches paratroopers perform airborne operations at Sicily Drop Zone at Fort Bragg, N.C. Dec. 2, 2017. Operation Toy Drop, hosted by the Army Reserve and the Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, enables soldiers to maintain their airborne readiness and give back to the local community. (Army photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster)

136th Airlift Wing takes part in Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child encourages individuals to fill shoeboxes with toys, school supplies, and clothing to forward to children in war-torn countries across the globe. Collaboratively, Texas’ 136th Airlift Wing filled more than 75 boxes to send a message of hope and love to those in need for Christmas.

Spearheading participation was Maj. Nathan Tucker, a chaplain with the 136th Airlift Wing, who found out about the initiative from a Bosnian man who had received one of these boxes as a child. To this day, the man keeps a scarf he received in one of the boxes.

Packed with love

Tech. Sgt. Alesia Leggett, the NCO in charge of force management with the 136th Force Support Squadron, repacks a shoebox filled with toys, school supplies, and clothing to forward to children in war-torn countries around the world for Operation Christmas Child at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, TX. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton)

Alaska National Guard plays Santa to island town

The Alaska National Guard has a tradition of serving communities throughout Alaska during the holiday season, delivering Christmas gifts and a variety of delights to the children as part of Operation Santa Claus. The island town of St. Michael, at the south end of the Norton Sound, was selected for a visit this year.


The children of St. Michael visit with volunteers and Alaska National Guard members during Operation Santa Claus on Dec. 5, 2017. Operation Santa Claus is an Alaska National Guard annual community outreach program that provides Christmas gifts, books, back packs filled with school supplies, fresh fruit and sundaes to youngsters in rural communities. (Photo by 2nd. Lt. Marisa Lindsay)

Tennessee Army Reservists distribute toys to local school kids

Army Reservists based out of Millington, Tennessee visited a local elementary school in nearby Memphis on Dec. 15. Soldiers distributed 300 toys to children in three pre-K classes.

Army Reserve at Wells Station Elementary

Marine Corps Reserve spearheads “Toys for Tots”

The Toys for Tots campaign celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and like each year for the past half century, Marine Corps Reservists and other volunteers are collecting and distributing many thousands of toys to children in local communities.

The organization has raised more than $837 million in the past 3 years to collect toys for distribution to less fortunate children in local communities, delivering a message of hope and assisting them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.

Toys for Tots-Kitsap reaches more than 2,000 children

Marine Corps Pfc. Amayrani Aguilar gives a stuffed animal to a child during a Toys for Tots distribution event. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cory Asato/Released)