INTERVIEW: Mark Woods & Operation Troop Aid

Mark Woods and Operation Troop Aid are synonymous, they go hand in hand. Mark has single handedly put together an organization which has grown into something bigger and better than he could have imagined. I spent some time with mark during one of the fundraising efforts in Nashville to get some history on his organization and to look into the future on where he hopes it is going.

Bev: Mark, tell me a little about Operation Troop Aid or OTA as it is recognized.

Mark: Operation Troop Aid was born out of a Garth Brooks inspiration. He did a concert on the flight deck of the U.S.S Enterprise right after 9 - 11. I was stationed on the Enterprise at that time and I was the assistant coordinator for the show. I got to meet Garth and all of his entourage, John Small with Picture Vision, the CBS folks, Trisha Yearwood, Steve Wariner, Jewel and others. It was a really an inspirational moment for me, because that was the first concert I had ever been involved with other than going to see them as a fan. Backstage, I got to see how everything worked and it was just a very touching moment in my life. At that point, I got the idea, I just didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do or even how to do it. I started thinking about things and writing things down.

In 2005, I woke and had had a dream and basically the name “Operation Troop Aid” popped in my head. You remember the movie Lion King, James Earl Jones, one of the great voices of our time? In Lion King, he told Simba, “you deliberately disobeyed me”. It was that voice that woke me up with “Operation Troop Aid”. I woke up and thought someone was breaking in my house and I got up ready to fight. Obviously no one was there. I laid back down and said “wait a minute, Operation Troop Aid”.

I Googled the name and it wasn’t used, so the next morning I called the State of Tennessee and the state office told me it wasn’t in use and I secured the name, I set up a board and I secured the rights to, .org, .com. very quickly as well.

The first year we sent about $2500 worth of care packages over seas, and the next year about $20,000. Now keep in mind that I was still active duty, so I could only do this on weekends. I was getting donations for $5 wrist bands, $3 wrist bands, whatever I could do to raise the money. My third year, we did about $80,000 worth and last year we did about $400,000 worth. It has been hard, it has been tough, I still don’t have major corporate sponsors, we really need those to come aboard so if you are listening, “please come on board”. The website is

The goal is to support the troops. I was one for 21 years, I just retired last year. These men and women are serving with courage and commitment to do their job and do what they are told to do. They deserve the support of this country. They are giving their lives for this country, what better way to give back a little piece of home while they are over there. The first year I had a letter written back to me, it is on the website. This guy named James, I don’t know who he is, wrote me back on a post card and said “I had really given up on mail, given up on everything until today when I got back and got this, you gave me a little bit of inspiration.

That all goes back to Garth. The demeanor that Garth showed me. I gave him a tour of the ship, of course there were other people there with him and me, maybe 10 or 12 people. He just amazed me, he would see somebody, I’d introduce them, and he wouldn’t see that person again for 4 hours but when he was back, he called the person by name. I would say, Garth, my God, I have been on this boat for almost 3 yrs and I don’t know all of these people or seen all of these people. If Garth hadn’t done that show there would be no Operation Troop Aid.

Bev: Do you think you comprehend the affect you have on the troops when they receive these packages?

Mark: No, and that is not why I am doing it, I am doing it so they know that they are cared for. Vietnam to me was a travesty, the troops coming home and being treated like they were. They were just doing their job, they were just going over and taking care of business that whoever was in leadership at the time gave them the orders to do. It is the same thing here. We are in a transition of power now from Bush to Obama. They are just doing their job. They raised their hand and said “I do”.

Bev: How do you choose where to send them because there are so many branches, so many places?

Mark: The guys and gals in service can go online at and send an email to contact us and they send us information. I have people I know that are still active duty and they send me addresses and we send the packages. What we would like to do is find one person, because it saves a lot of money, and send 30, 40, 60 care packages to that one person and then they disperse to chaplains, officers, commanding officers. When a commanding officer of a unit gets that big of response and he calls out the guys and he doesn’t let them know what is going on, for him to pass the bags out saying “thank you for being here”, it means a lot to the junior guys. There are a lot of the junior guys with animosity. They are doing battle thinking “you don’t have to go out where we do and do battle”, etc. For the CO's the Po’s the Sergeants, Sergeant Majors and Chaplains to be able to get the packages and give them out is great. When I do get the addresses, I go back to them and ask them to please hand these out to single soldiers that don’t have families, or may have small families or just got married. I tell them to start with the juniors and work your way up instead of starting with the seniors and work your way down. We try to have some criteria for doing this.

Bev: Have you ever been at any of the bases when the packages were handed out?

Mark: Unfortunately, now that I am retired, I don’t go over there, I definitely wouldn’t mind but I don’t have the means to go over there. Perhaps if we do get a sponsor and I can do that, I will.

Bev: I have had the honor to do photographs at events where you recognized artists for their contributions to Operation Troop Aid. Can you elaborate on who some of them are and why?

Mark: Some of the honorary board members of Operation Troop Aid are Garth Brooks,
Toby Keith, Aaron Tippin, Darryl Worley, Loretta Lynn, Cheap Trick and several other artists, and most recently honored was Steven Cochran, who was a marine, still is a marine, he went over and did a couple of tours and broke his back when an IUD went off. It killed his best friend that was in the truck with him. They said Steven would never walk again but he defied that and now is a great artist. He has a new song called “Wal-Mart Flowers” that is moving up the charts.

Bev: How do you determine who is going to be an honorary board member or get the awards.

Mark: The yearly award, Operation Troop Aid patriot award, is for someone that has gone above and beyond to support the troops wherever they may be. Garth got the inspiration award, that was different from the patriot award. He is the only one that gets that because he was the inspiration. I just wanted to show respect. I had a flag sent to me that was flown in battle in Iraq and I gave that to him. Toby Keith, Darrell Worley and Aaron Tippin are the last three years, one each year. We already have the guy named for this year, can’t tell you right now, we want it to be a surprise. If you are a patriot award winner, you are automatically an honorary board member. The honorary board members are folks that have shown a desire to support the troops, support Operation Troop Aid and have done stuff in the past to give that support to the troops. The patriot award winner is for the guy that for the last year has gone above and beyond. Like Loretta Lynn, she has done stuff her whole life time for the troops. When I got a chance to meet her, I asked her management if she would be interested in being an honorary board member. They said “yes” because she has done so many things over the years.

Bev: How did the country music artists get involved, other than Garth? Did that spark the interest and you knew you would have concerts to promote it?

Mark: The concert on the U.S.S Enterprise right after 9 – 11 definitely put the idea of utilizing music and concerts to raise awareness and money for the troops in my head.
I want to do concerts, that is my calling. Am I totally in it yet? No. We don’t do great big shows yet but the goal is there, the mission is there, the vision is there to get to major concert halls. Verizon Wireless if you are listening, Live Nation if you are listening and all the others. We did an event with Nickelback back in 2007 where they donated about 30 tickets to one of their shows and we helped the radio station to get the word out and gave the tickets away and it was really cool.

Bev: What has been the most memorable feedback you have gotten back from the troop, someone that has been in the military. You do all branches right?

Mark: Oh yes, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, everybody. The most memorable is still the postcard from James. Even though that was one of the first ones we got back, he literally said he had pretty much given up on mail. To be a soldier overseas and not getting mail, even if you have family, normally families will send you stuff but if you don’t have family, to get something from somebody you don’t even know, saying God bless you, thank you for what you are doing, we believe in what you are doing, don’t give up, keep going, don’t give up.

Bev: The items that you put in the care packages include food items, personal care items, and a wide variety of things; do you purchase the items or have business stepped forward to make donations? How are you obtaining them?

Mark: We have both, we have Sam’s and Wal-Mart. They give us grants from their stores. But if you are listening down in Bentonville, Arkansas, at a Sam’s or Wal-Mart, the $1,000 grants are great, we love them and we are going to keep putting in for those grants at each store but we would love to have the corporate guys come onboard. Instead of getting $1,000 dollars at each store, if they would write a check for bigger, we would be able to do a big show and make even more. And then what do we do with the money? We go to Sam’s and buy all their products so it’s a win, win. If they were to donate to us, we would go back to Sam’s, buy all the product, send it over to the troops and that is the biggest result right there—the troops get provided for. It is a win, win, Sam’s gets back, the public gets a concert—not just a concert, it will be an event and I want people, when they leave, to say “I’m proud to be an American”. Whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, that right there is what America is all about, supporting the people that give back to you by serving in the military. If you have palletized size loads, beef jerky, soap, whatever you have, we can get pallet size loads over. We have a contract with a major carrier and they will come to your place and pick it up and ship it over to the troops.

Bev: Do you focus on certain markets? I know you have done a lot here because I have been involved with several events in Nashville that you were also involved.

Mark: My focus at the moment is pretty much focused on Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky right now. On Saturday October 10th we are promoting The 2009 OTA Freedom Ride. We will participate in the ride and then Dokken will be performing in concert at The Inner Circle in Cincinnati, Ohio. We are hoping for that one to be pretty big.

Bev: Mark, thank you for all you are doing for the troops and everyone who is affected by this. You are an amazing individual and I am proud to call you a friend as well.

Mark: Thank you and thanks for helping me get the word out. I appreciate it and am always appreciative of the photos and all you do as well.

For more information on Operation Troop Aid please go to the website or

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