SAN DIEGO — Seven-year-old Anika Krutzik joined more than 3,000 Girl Scouts on the deck of the USS Midway on Saturday to celebrate the send-off of the 2 millionth cookie as part of Operation Thin Mint.
But Anika, a first-year Daisy scout and first-grader from Brawley, arrived on the decommissioned aircraft carrier in San Diego Harbor a bit differently — she was one of a half-dozen scouts from the San Diego-Imperial Council who earned the right to touch down at the Operation Thin Mint Sendoff event from a helicopter.
Operation Thin Mint, which started at the San Diego-Imperial Council more than a decade ago, provides U.S. military men and women stationed overseas a little crumb of comfort from home.
Anika, who turned 7 on the final day of cookie sales in March, sold 3,128 boxes of cookies, including more than 800 boxes earmarked for Operation Thin Mint. She set a goal of 3,000 boxes sold so she could win an iPad, her mom, Ramona Krutzik, said, but she ended up being the No. 4 seller for the entire region.
“She had the best time ever. It was so exciting for me to see her up there, and once she was up there, she realized” how big of a deal the event was, her mom said. “She really didn’t know, but when all of those people were cheering, and cheering for her, that’s when she realized.
“It was wonderful to see, to see the light turn on,” said Krutzik, who walked alongside her daughter every weekday afternoon and four to six hours every weekend during the cookie sale period.
Krutzik said she was a former Girl Scout herself who maxed out selling 210 boxes one year, so Anika’s goal seemed unrealistic to her. But, “I didn’t want to be the first person to tell my daughter she couldn’t do something.”
Anika never had to be pushed to hit the streets and sell her cookies, her mother said.
For Daisy troop leader Gina Sanchez, Anika will serve as inspiration for her scouts next year. Sanchez, of Imperial, who leads Troop 7124 out of Meadows Elementary School in El Centro, had no idea an Imperial Valley girl was among the top sellers before Saturday. She said her troop of six sold about the average per scout, which San Diego-Imperial Council officials said at the sendoff is 180 boxes each.
“The whole experience was really motivating. Now, as a troop leader, I have ideas of other things we can do, seeing that she (Anika) was a Daisy,” Sanchez said.
Krutzik, Sanchez and several dozen scouts and parents from the Valley, including a 20-person bus that left from El Centro earlier that morning, made it to the annual sendoff event that was even bigger and better than in years past —- Operation Thin Mint started with the San Diego-Imperial Council 11 years ago —- as it also commemorated the centennial of the Girls Scouts itself
Sanchez added the sendoff showed her first-time scouts that the Girl Scouts is “bigger than us,” Sanchez said. Her Daisies got to see older scouts and all of their patches and accolades; she said the whole troop left inspired and motivated for bigger things.
Operation Thin Mint itself is geared toward those bigger things, council officials said Saturday, as major U.S. military figures took the podium aboard the Midway to thank the Girl Scouts for making a tough time abroad a little bit easier.
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Girl Scouts cookies received by the troops as part of Operation Thin Mint therapy.
“I don’t care if I get in trouble,” Battaglia said, as he described how he would personally deliver cookies to the soldiers recuperating from battlefield injuries in overseas’ hospitals, saying the cookies were a vital piece of home for the injured.
It’s not clear what 7-year-olds Lindsey Salorio, Riley Brown and Gitzelle Tellez took from the event other than fun. More distracted and in awe of all the girls around them than anything during the presentations, the trio perked up when three skydivers, one of whom carried the Girls Scouts flag, jumped from a plane circling the Midway and parachuted onto the deck of the carrier.
Then, later, the reactions were similar when a hovering U.S. Coast Guard helicopter attached its sling to a packaged crate of OTM cookies, only to lift them up, up and away, in preparation for transport overseas.
“It was fun,” said Gitzelle, whose Troop 7125 is one of two based out of McCabe School in El Centro, “because we got to see how they do things, like fly out of the plane.”
Lindsey’s favorite part was the “guys in the helicopter who jumped out.”
The trio of friends understood, though, the basics of what Operation Thin Mint stands for, as Lindsey said the cookies are sent “all around the world,” she explained, before Riley chimed in, “for the military.”
Starting young is the goal, and that’s an idea not lost on U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Patrick McGrath, deputy commander of the 3rd Fleet, who earlier in the event looked out across the thousands of young faces of girls assembled in front of him and said:
“I see hundreds and hundreds of bright, intelligent, articulate leaders,” he said. “America is going to be all right.”
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