Carolyn Blashek is the founder of Operation Gratitude, the California- based 501 (c) (3) non-profit, volunteer organization that annually sends 100,000+ care packages of snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in hostile regions such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and on military ships at sea. Its mission is to lift morale, bring a smile to a service member’s face and to express to all our Armed Forces the appreciation and support of the American people. Since its inception in March, 2003, Operation Gratitude has shipped more than 550,000 packages to American service members deployed overseas.
After 9-11, Blashek felt a passionate desire to help fight the war on terrorism. Although then a 46-year-old mother of two, her first thought was to join the Military. She quickly found out she was too old for duty and started volunteering at the military lounge in the Los Angeles airport. One day in March 2003, a soldier came into the office and broke down at her desk. He was on emergency leave from a war zone to bury his mother, his wife had left him and his only child had died as an infant–he had no one else in his life. “I’m going back over there; I don’t think I’ll make it back this time, but it really doesn’t matter because no one would even care” he told her. Right then Blashek realized that when bullets are flying, it’s critical for troops to know that someone cares about them as an individual. That’s when Operation Gratitude was born.
While most organizations ask people to support the troops by writing a check, Blashek wanted to provide a more personal and hands-on connection with our troops overseas. She started asking everyone she met if they knew a deployed service member needing extra TLC so she could send them care packages of snacks and entertainment items. Most importantly, each package would include letters of encouragement from appreciative citizens. Now, Blashek is contacted by leaders and commanders in the field who see the positive impact the Operation Gratitude care packages have on their troops in combat. Since November 2003, Operation Gratitude has conducted its Assembly Drives in the California Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys, California.
Since starting Operation Gratitude in 2003, Blashek has devoted herself full time, as a volunteer, to the development and direction of the organization. In January, 2008, at the invitation of the Commanding General, Blashek personally delivered the 300,000th package, containing the keys to a new Jeep Liberty, to a Soldier deployed in Northern Iraq. First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and 25 members of Congress and the Obama Administration joined Blashek and 12,000 Operation Gratitude volunteers on January 19, 2009, the National Day of Service, to assemble 85,000 care kits for Operation Gratitude packages
Operation Gratitude has been featured widely in the media. Blashek has been a guest nationally on Fox News, CNN, Good Morning America, NPR’s Morning Edition, as well as the Dennis Prager, Larry Elder, Brian Whitman, John Riggins and the Satellite Sisters Radio Shows. Dozens of Internet websites and blogs have mentioned and link to Operation Gratitude.
Blashek is a member of the New York and California Bars, practiced law at the Los Angeles law firm of Loeb & Loeb, was Associate Counsel for Hilton Hotels Corporation, taught as a Visiting Professor at Whittier Law School and has a Certificate in Mediation. While raising children full-time, Blashek participated in several charitable and school based organizations, and was President of the Board of Trustees of The Women’s Care Cottage, a shelter for homeless women and children in Los Angeles. California First Lady Maria Shriver awarded the 2010 Minerva Humanitarian Award to Blashek.
Blashek was born and raised in Manhattan. Following graduation from Barnard College in 1976 and Columbia Law School in 1979, she moved to Los Angeles with her husband and fellow-law school classmate, Robert. Together they raised two children (Jenna, 25 and Jordan, 23), two dogs and several cats.
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