In August 1990, military members around the globe were preparing for the first major international conflict after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Later that year, the Wyoming National Guard stepped up to support two equally important operations: Operation Desert Shield and Operation GUARDian Angel.
Operation GUARDian Angel serves to provide anonymous gift giving to military children whose military parents are experiencing financial difficulties or other hardships.
“Operation GUARDian Angel is supported by community members who provide gifts as able, to those less fortunate,” said Bill Breckenridge, director of the Service member, Family, Employer, Readiness Support Team for the Wyoming National Guard. “The program was initiated, in part, due to the Gulf War because it was the first time in decades that the National Guard was called back to service in a very long time, in a really meaningful way.
“With the Reserve component heavily tasked for the first time in decades, it quickly became apparent that military personnel were ill-prepared for the toll that the Gulf War deployment would bring about on their families,” said Breckenridge.
Such difficulties can be the result of service members and dependents not making ends meet financially, or possibly having both military parents deployed at the same time, making it difficult to give children gifts over the holidays.
“The last two years we have partnered with Wyoming High School Future Business Leaders of America programs to help find ‘angels’ in other parts of the state and to help with gift delivery,” said Amy Wilson, lead Child and Youth Program coordinator for the Wyoming National Guard. “There were around 50 teens that helped us with this project last year and are gearing up for helping us again this year.”
Operation GUARDian Angel provides a two-way benefit; allowing community members to provide gifts and give back, while also providing gifts for Wyoming National Guard families’ children who may not otherwise receive them.
“The program is really a cycle of support,” said Denise Rampolla, 153rd Airlift Wing Airmen and Family Readiness program manager, who has helped oversee the program for the last 15 years. “We often times see past program recipients go on to become program sponsors when they are in a more suitable place in their lives to provide the help to someone else and give back. Many people end up coming back year after year to support the program once they see what a positive difference it makes in the lives of others.”
The Wyoming National Guard also has five regional Family Assistance Centers around Wyoming that also help with this effort.
“One of the stories I received from a FAC specialist was when a parent came to pick up the gifts for their children and was almost in tears, hugging and thanking them,” said Wilson. “This family did not know how they were even going to be able to buy a tree for Christmas, let alone presents.”
To date, the Wyoming National Guard program has assisted approximately 200 Wyoming Army and Air National Guard service members and their families per year, totaling approximately 5,200 served by the program since its inception.
“This program demonstrates the longstanding commitment that Wyoming communities extend to those who serve and highlights the tie between community members and those who serve as a way for them to give back,” said Breckenridge. “It’s pretty amazing.”
If you would like to sponsor family members of a service member in need, please contact Amy Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-772-5211, or Denise Rampolla at Denise.email@example.com or 307-772-6063. Deadline for sponsors is Nov. 30.