04/15/2012 11:59 am ET Updated Jun 15, 2012

Over 50,000 Military Children Find Comfort In 'Battalion Buddies'

Hi Brave Young Warrior:
I am your Battalion Buddy! I am here to cuddle and play with you while Mommy or Daddy is away! And my friends at Operation Gratitude will be sending a little something to Mommy or Daddy, too!

In military families, it is not only the service member who makes sacrifices in the course of accomplishing tasks and completing duties. When it comes to overseas deployments, especially, America's youngest heroes -- military children -- face the burden of sharing their parents with their country and the world.

Hoping to provide some degree of comfort to these children, Operation Gratitude launched its Battalion Buddy Program in May, 2011, sending special stuffed animals to the sons and daughters of U.S. military personnel as their units prepare to deploy.

Our initial Battalion Buddy efforts were made possible by the McKesson Corporation, which provided a generous donation of thousands of the toys. The program has continued with the cooperation and support of Family Readiness Officers and battalion leaders nationwide, plus the enthusiastic efforts of hundreds of Operation Gratitude volunteers who lovingly assemble the packages at our armory in Van Nuys. Battalion Buddy packages have been shipped to 112 unique Zip Codes, 29 states, Germany, Guam, Puerto Rico and 197 deployed units.

Ultimately, we want the children to know that they too have caring friends across the country who are aware of their sacrifices and send their appreciation. So far, over 50,000 children have received these gifts of love and support and the responses we have received let us know we are meeting an important need:

From a father in Afghanistan:

"Thank you for what your organization does and the positive impact you have on the lives of military service members and their families. You bent over backwards to help us receive several hundred Battalion Buddies for our deploying unit and I for one was very grateful as my son and daughter absolutely loved them. According to my wife, they have kept them close every night as they go to sleep."

From a Family Readiness Officer:

"We have loved your kind boxes for the children of the deployed Marines. It means so much to (the Marines) knowing their families back home are being taken care of. Thanks again!"

From the wife of a deployed Soldier:

"I wanted to give you a sincere 'Thank You!' for providing the Battalion Buddies for the children of our deployed soldiers. The smiles on their faces when they opened their boxes were priceless. We told them that Operation Gratitude had provided the Buddies to them to hug while their daddies were away, and that Operation Gratitude was sending packages to their daddies that looked just like theirs but would have things that they would need while they were overseas. The extra-wide smiles when they discovered that there was also a box of Girl Scout cookies in their box was an added bonus. On behalf of our soldiers and our troop families, please accept these thanks. Your support is so very much appreciated."

We are excited that the momentum for this program is building and that more friends across the country are joining our efforts to support military children. Now we just need to find more of these soft cuddly animals to keep up with the demand!

As with our Care Packages to deployed troops, Operation Gratitude's Battalion Buddy Program provides every American an opportunity to encourage the children of troops serving in combat by donating stuffed toys and contributing funds.

Feeling inspired to give a military child a cuddly friend to play with? Here's how you can get involved:

Those wishing to donate brand-new hand-made stuffed animals to be used as Battalion Buddies can find appropriate "Kits" here. We will "dress" the animals with the Operation Gratitude flak jacket and hang-tag.

The Battalion Buddies should be sent to:

Operation Gratitude
17330 Victory Boulevard
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Attn: Battalion Buddy Program

Financial contributions are also welcome, and much needed for supplies and shipping expenses. Donations can be made online here. Checks can be sent to:

Operation Gratitude
16444 Refugio Road
Encino, CA 91436
Attention U.S. Military