In a 24/7 operation, it is not unusual to spot a group of determined employees hustling about a hangar at 4:30 a.m. This time, they’re not on the clock. Rather, they’ve come in hours before their day shift to benefit strangers they may never meet, halfway around the world.
The mission? Operation Care Package, a grassroots effort to pack and send goods to our service members abroad. Mark Norris, a 35-year Delta TechOps mechanic and Marine Corps veteran, started the project four years ago. Mark and his wife Doreta’s passion has motivated thousands of hours of volunteered service and generosity of Delta employees. In the early hours of September 8, they packed up and sealed their 7,000th care package.
This connection to military men and women is personal for the Norris family. The couple’s son is an active-duty Marine and through his connections, requests submitted by Delta employees, and word-of-mouth, Operation Care Package receives the names and addresses of individuals and groups of service members from all branches of the U.S. Military.
The process is simple, the addressee’s sacrifice is not. Mark and Doreta fill several shopping carts full of non-perishable food, personal care items, and even save space for some fun items like yo-yos and footballs to entertain service members during downtime. The supplies are then delivered to TechOps, where wonderful volunteers (who have no issue with a 4:30 AM call time) package and label the boxes, and then load them up for the post office – all before putting in a full day’s work.
When Operation Care Package began in 2017, the group was sending about 60 boxes per week with Doreta handwriting labels and custom forms. About two years ago, they moved to a monthly cadence -- sending packages to several addresses with 25 – 30 packages per address. The items and shipping costs quickly add up – most shipments average $2,000. Funds are donated by Delta employees from all divisions and across the network. Many of Mark’s TechOps colleagues donate time and money every week toward supporting the operation.
Every new address receives a care package complete with a Delta flag signed with well wishes from TechOps employees. Many recipients often reciprocate with American flags, accompanied by certificates showing the places they’ve flown – including in the cockpit of military aircraft during combat missions. These along with numerous photos of Delta flags alongside thankful military personnel are displayed throughout the TechOps hangar and conference room in Atlanta.
“Mark’s efforts and the ongoing support of his TechOps colleagues is a prime example of the Delta Difference,” said Don Mitacek, SVP, TechOps & President, Delta TechOps Services Group. “The Delta culture is thriving within TechOps as team members go above and beyond for our customers, our community, and each other.”
The meaning of the work is felt tenfold when previous recipients of the care packages now don Delta badges and stand shoulder to shoulder on the package assembly line, as senders. Delta TechOps employees, like Matthew Kennedy, showed up early Wednesday morning, like has done before, to pack and support, after receiving his own package years ago.
Kennedy was a fire controlman who worked with the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile and the Tactical Tomahawk Weapons Control System as well as the Naval Fire Control System for the MK 45 – 5 in Naval gun mount. He completed Delta’s Military Potential Employee externship program, which allows service members the opportunity to develop a competitive skillset in the commercial airline industry within the final 180 days of their enlistment. Matthew, whose father Jon Kennedy also works at TechOps as a Lead AMSCT and volunteers with Operation Care Package, is now an Aircraft Maintenance Technician (AMT) after completing the program in June.
Kennedy stood side by side with his colleagues on that early Wednesday morning, remembering when he was receiving the box on a Navy ship. “It was such a blessing to receive these packages out there and to be able to give them to people throughout the ship. Especially being on the other end of this – it means so much more now and that this company supports this operation,” he said.
Other father-son pairs have been impacted as well. Lead machinist Steve Chontos began volunteering with Operation Care Package while his son Dominick was deployed in Afghanistan. Dominick is now an Aircraft Support Mechanic and joined his father in supporting the mission.
“It’s really great to be part of something people helped me with while I was overseas. It was a taste of home. I feel really grateful to Delta, and to Mark to have the opportunity to do this,” Dominick Chontos said.
For AMT 2 Brian Ballard, whose son is an active-duty Marine, Operation Care Package offers a chance to connect with his son while he’s deployed. Two years ago, Brian and Mark, along with two other TechOps colleagues, flew to Bahrain where Brian’s son was deployed at the time to hand-deliver 435 care packages Marine Corps Squadron VMA-311.
Reflecting on what he hopes the 7,000th package and the next thousand mean to the men and women receiving them, Norris said, “We just want them to know we’re thankful for them, and we’re behind them.”