MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- The sound of cadence, the pitter-pattering of feet and a speeding sea of green-on-green is a common sight on Combat Center grounds, but one wave of Marines had a little extra bounce in their step and thunder in their voice as they did their part to support a 58-year-old Marine Corps tradition.
More than 1,200 staff and students from the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School participated in the annual MCCES Toys for Tots Formation Run on Dec. 2, dropping off toys at a designated site during the run.
In 1947, Maj. Bill Hendricks, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, started the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign with fellow reservists in Los Angeles, collecting more than 5,000 toys that year. Last year, the Combat Center Toys for Tots advisory committee and Reserve Support Unit here, collecting from more than 15 cities in two counties, collected toys for more than 17,200 children in the area.
More than 1,100 toys were placed into the back of six trucks parked in the Officer’s Club parking lot, the turn-around point of the three-mile run, said Maj. J. F. Licari, deputy operations officer at MCCES. The MCCES staff and students who had participated in the run collected the donated toys.
When the formation reached the drop-off area, Col. Marshall Considine, MCCES commanding officer, handed the first toy to Col. James R. Braden, the Combat Center’s chief of staff, who waited with his family alongside Santa Claus and Marines in their dress blue uniform, the well-known image of the Toys for Tots campaign.
The MCCES command staff is very supportive of the unit’s involvement in community events, said Licari.
“It’s very important that every Marine gets to be a part of Marine Corps history,” he said. “It’s important they know where it came from and how it all started after World War II, when a lot of families were in need and one Marine sought out a way to give all children a merry Christmas.”
Most MCCES students are in their first months out of basic training and are still adapting to the Marine Corps lifestyle and values. Showing pride in donating time or money is a big part of being a Marine, said Cpl. Christopher Pazos, MCCES Bravo Company supply chief, who ran in the formation.
“It’s a great opportunity for young Marines to give to needy children who aren’t as fortunate as they were growing up,” he said.
Contributing to a good cause brings joy to those who are giving, Pazos added.
“It gives us a slice of holiday spirit out here in the desert,” he said. “We’re always motivated out on runs, but on this run, we’re louder and having a great time knowing we’re going to make someone’s Christmas better.”
The devastating blow from Hurricane Katrina in September effected families all over America, leaving them struggling just to gather the remains of their former lives. Having to respond to a life-changing event like that leaves little time for these families to concentrate on preparing for the holidays, Licari explained.
“We aim to make Christmas possible for everyone,” he said. “Especially for those who lost so much in a way that was out of their hands.”
As a prior Marine reservist, Licari had a special tie to Toys for Tots as he and fellow reservists knew the campaign as one of USMCR’s top priority and prideful events of the year, he recalled.
According to the Marine Corps’ official Web site, the program was developed to inspire young children to grow into “responsible, productive, patriotic citizens and community leaders.”
Over the last 57 years, Marines have distributed over 332.5 million toys to over 158.8 million children, and with the campaign still underway, no one can predict this year’s outcome.
As the three ranks of runners split around the six trucks, the Marines continued to belt out cadence as they handed toys to fellow Marines posted in the back of the trucks. Two by two the first four trucks were quickly filled until the last two trucks were halfway full with the last of the toys; the streams of Marines aligned once again to make their way back to the schoolhouse.