So many toys

Published 10:55 pm Friday, December 9, 2011

John Woleben, left, Suffolk-area coordinator for Toys for Tots, collects toys from Jacki Gerber, who works at the Joint Staff Joint and Coalition Warfighting building. The employees collected more than 1,200 toys for Toys for Tots.

Military collects for Toys for Tots

John Woleben’s eyes lit up as he walked into the Joint Staff Joint and Coalition Warfighting building on Friday.

The 1,000 or so employees at the center, housed in a former U.S. Joint Forces Command building in North Suffolk, had collected more than 1,200 toys for the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots.

“This is amazing,” Woleben, the Suffolk-area Toys for Tots coordinator, exclaimed as he looked around at all the toys.

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The toys had been stacked, in typical military precision, to make for a perfect photo. Dinosaurs sat on top of bicycles and Barbies were perched on piles of board games. Toys were gathered around a Christmas tree and arranged in front of U.S., state and military flags.

“We’ve been doing it probably for the last five years,” said Jacki Gerber, operations officer of technical training for the Joint Staff Joint and Coalition Warfighting. “We started within my little office group, and it started growing.”

After the reorganization earlier this year, during which the former U.S. Joint Forces Command was dismantled, the staff in the new organization had to get permission from a new chain of command to collect toys. But everyone was very supportive, Gerber said.

“We decided we were going to go for it,” she said. “We started right before Thanksgiving getting people to bring stuff in. I would hate as a kid to wake up on Christmas and not have something to open.”

Besides just bringing in toys, one unit in the building held a golf tournament and then bought toys with the proceeds.

U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Guy Sutula, the senior enlisted leader at the Joint Staff Joint and Coalition Warfighting, said he is proud of the workforce being able to pull together and do something for others after a long year of tumult and uncertainty.

The former U.S. Joint Forces Command was disestablished in August, about a year after then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recommended the move. However, many employees remain doing similar duties under a different military organization.

“This is really a testament to the character of these individuals,” he said. “Everything they’ve been through in the past year, it goes out the window when it comes to doing something like this.”

Sutula said the units were competing among themselves to see who could bring in the most toys.

“They have a little friendly competition, but they are very well aware of the fact it’s not them that’s going to win,” he said. “It’s the kids.”