Mark Woods grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and out of a genuine sense of patriotism and love for his country, decided to join the military. With a desire to travel, Mark chose the Navy as the ideal way to serve and see the world. He served 21 years, retiring in 2008.
It was September 2001, when Mark started to chart the course of creating TROOP AID (TM)/Operation Troop Aid (OTA), Inc. Having been on deployment during the horrific attacks of 9-11, he and his shipmates watched as the second plane hit the World Trade Center. They were on station and ready for any action the president required of them.
Previously during that deployment, Mark was the coordinator and escort for an onboard concert by Chad Brock, a CMA recording artist. After the events of 9-11, he received an e-mail from the military concert coordinators that Garth Brooks wanted to do a concert onboard and televise it nationwide. Mark was again assigned to work as the assistant coordinator. He toured Garth around the ship and met all of his entourage. This experience was extremely enlightening, and Garth inspired Mark to use music and entertainment initiatives for charity.
Upon transferring from that command to shore duty in 2003, Mark began to coordinate benefits for Toys for Tots and Military Appreciation. One night Mark was awakened by a vivid dream and immediately searched the Internet for the name “OPERATION TROOP AID.” Finding it nowhere, he retained a lawyer to become incorporated and submitted the IRS Non-Profit 501(c)(3) paperwork, to which he was granted incorporation and charity status in the state of Tennessee and was then awarded IRS 501(c)(3) status. He later transferred to Virginia and continued the TROOP AID (TM) mission.
Mark’s dream is to turn OTA into the “Premier Care Package and Bill Assistance Charity” for U.S. Troops, by using major concert promotions and entertainment initiatives and branch TROOP AID (TM) out all over the country. He has worked tirelessly and assembled all the right players and is now seeking corporate sponsors. The mission of OTA is to make a positive difference and inspire deployed U.S. service members by letting them know America stands with them. Headed up by Woods, Operation Troop Aid provides care packages and bill assistance with revenue generated through professional concert promotions, entertainment initiatives and public financial generosity. To date, the organization has sent care packages valued at a total of more than $1 million to U.S. service men and women.
What are you working on right now?
Our current project is to send 10,000 care packages to deployed U.S. Troops and work on planning for Troop Aid 2011.
How do you bring ideas to life?
OTA partners with entertainers and venues to raise awareness and raise money for our mission. It is through the support of music artists and other friends of OTA that our mission moves forward.
What has been the most rewarding part of creating and building your organization?
Just knowing that our service people are cared for is the greatest reward. I have received photos of units with giant thank you notes, and I remember how special it was to receive a package from home when I myself was so far away.
What has been your greatest challenge, and how have you overcome it?
Fundraising has been the greatest challenge. There are so many worthy organizations vying for attention and financial support, and the tough economy makes it even more difficult. I just keep knocking on doors and making calls.
What inspires you?
Knowing that Operation Troop Aid is making a positive difference in people’s lives … that’s all it takes.
What are 3 trends that excite you?
Our particular mission is not really subject to trends. As far as I am concerned, supporting our troops never goes out of style.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
Well, I wish I had joined the Navy immediately after high school, but I made the right choice eventually! As the head of OTA, I have been fortunate to avoid any significant pitfalls. Remaining focused on our core mission keeps me moving forward.
What is one book and/or tool that helps you?
What made you decide to start your nonprofit organization?
I was inspired by how important it was to the troops when Garth Brooks came to perform for us. I immediately began to think of ways to use major concert promotions and entertainment events to help our troops.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
How can members of our community help?
Fundraising is our greatest challenge. People can donate individually or can urge their employers to come on board as corporate sponsors. We also need help occasionally with the actual assembly of the care packages, which contain up to 50 items each. We recently had a very successful event at Mt. Juliet High School in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. The senior class volunteered, and we assembled 500 care packages in just about an hour.
Where do you want to be in five years?
I want to be doing a national TROOP AID tour each year with top entertainers, and I’d like to see each tour culminate in a TROOP AID telethon.
What makes you tick and keeps you motivated?
Making sure our troops are provided for, and that they know they have the support of Americans back home.