Stockton California Highway Patrol Officer Ruben Jones said you never want to see hard-working people have their property stolen. But how about when three military families are robbed of everything they own on Christmas Day during the process of an active duty relocation?
“That’s worse,” he said.
So when it happened in Stockton last month, Jones decided it just wasn’t something he could bear. He had to do something.
A tractor-trailer carrying more than $100,000 worth of the families’ property was stolen during a pit stop in Stockton on its way from the East Coast to Washington, the CHP reported earlier this month. The 53-foot trailer and about 90 percent of the stolen cargo were recovered a few days later in Manteca.
The trucking company hired to transport their belongings is based out of Stockton, Jones said. The owner was stopping home for the holiday before continuing north when one of the company’s employees stole the tractor-trailer from the trucking yard.
Jones reached out to the sergeant leading the task force investigating the theft, who then put him in contact with Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Ooley.
“He was a proud military man,” Jones said. “One of the toughest men I’ve ever met.”
Ooley didn’t care about his stuff being taken or broken, Jones said. What did affect him, however, was that his 7-year-old daughter’s Barbie Dreamhouse had been busted up in the theft.
“And that just got me,” Jones said. “Not in my town.”
So Jones enlisted CHP Officer James Smith to help him make it right. And within 15 minutes, “Operation Barbie Dreamhouse” took shape.
But it wasn’t just about the dollhouse, Jones said. All three families had children and items that likely needed to be replaced.
After receiving the go ahead from their captain and galvanizing support from community members and organizations, Smith and Jones embarked on a 1,500-mile journey to Lakewood, Washington, loaded down with a trailer full of gifts and toys for the families.
The families are currently on a six-month housing waiting list for Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Jones said. So the CHP officers also brought along cash and gift cards to stores like Home Depot and Target for the families to use to help make their temporary housing feel more like “home,” as well as to replace anything that had been damaged during the theft.
It took a little more than 15 hours for Smith and Jones to reach their destination after leaving Stockton on Saturday morning, stopping at various law enforcement organizations along the way to collect official patches to give to the families to show those agencies had their backs as well.
The families were told he and Smith were just bringing them some care packages, Jones said. So they were very much surprised and overwhelmed when they walked into the small room at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2329 building Sunday morning to find tables covered in gifts, unloaded and set up with the help of a local Boy Scout troop.
Included among the goodies were new bikes, a mini ride-on car and, yes, a Barbie Dreamhouse.
Seven-year-old Hannah Ooley couldn’t stop hugging him and Smith, Jones said.
“She was the best. She was the cutest little girl. And gave the best hugs. Smith and I wanted to bring her home,” Jones said. “She was so appreciative. She had the best smile, too.”
Jones said her dad, Sgt. Ooley, was also visibly moved by the gesture.
“It was a very rewarding feeling to be able to do this for our military families,” Jones said, adding that they support their armed service members without question. This was a way to give them a second Christmas and to say sorry for what happened, he said.
Smith and Jones arrived back in Stockton at about 2 a.m Monday, ending a whirlwind trip that included a “once-in-a-lifetime” tour of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“It was a long trip. I am exhausted,” Jones said. “But I had a great time.”
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