Instead of a reindeer-powered sleigh, Santa delivers Christmas from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam to more than 20,000 Pacific islanders by C-130 Hercules drops from the air.
For the first time in the 63-year history of Operation Christmas Drop, the 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base, Japan, has two partners in support personnel from Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Australian Air Force in delivering donated goods to more than 56 of the Pacific's most remote and populated islands. Each nation provided one C-130 for the trilateral operation.
Not only is Operation Christmas Drop the Defense Department's longest running humanitarian airlift mission, but it also gives the 374th AW an opportunity to practice humanitarian aid and disaster relief. C-130 aircrews deliver almost 40,000 pounds of supplies by executing more than 20 low-cost, low-altitude airdrop training missions to islanders throughout the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau. The airdrop missions allow aircrews to practice essential combat skills and demonstrate commitment throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region while helping the U.S. strengthen cooperation with two allies.
"Members of our community consider all Micronesians brothers and sisters, and we are happy to share this unique tradition in bridging the distance," said Brig. Gen. Andrew Toth, the 36th Wing commander. "That's the beauty of this operation – its impact goes beyond the coastline of Guam."
The exact origin of Operation Christmas Drop isn't known, but according to 36th Wing history, the first supplies were dropped during Christmas in 1952. An aircrew, assigned to the 54th Weather Squadron at Andersen AFB, flew a WB-29 Superfortress over Kapingamarangi in the Federated States of Micronesia, south of Guam, and saw villagers waving at them from the ground. The crew packed items on the plane in a box and dropped it on a parachute used for weather buoys. The drops continued each year until the name Operation Christmas Drop was officially named six years later.
The 2015 Operation Christmas Drop officially kicked off Dec. 8 at Andersen AFB, with a celebratory "push ceremony." Military members from the 374th AW, 36th Wing, 734th Air Mobility Squadron, 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing, all from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and international partners from Australia and Japan gathered for the opening ceremony celebrating the first ever trilateral execution of Operation Christmas Drop.
Addressing the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, Col. Douglas C. DeLaMater, the 374th AW commander, said, "Your participation in the coming days highlights our dedication and commitment to modernizing our alliances, reinforcing our shared values, and deepening our partnerships across the region.
"Operation Christmas Drop is a prime example of the depth airpower brings to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region," he said. "In addition to delivering critical supplies to those in need, Operation Christmas Drop provides specific training to U.S. and allied aircrews, enabling theater-wide airpower."
Throughout the week after the ceremony, the joint teams trained together on low-cost, low-altitude airdrop tactics and procedures. The crews will drop more than 100 bundles filled with humanitarian aid donations and critical supplies, such as books, canned goods, construction materials, clothing, coolers, fishing nets, powdered milk, shoes, school supplies, and toys.
"This coalition training results in a more robust force that is better enabled to execute rapid (humanitarian aid and disaster response) and resupply missions at a moment's notice throughout the region and around the world," DeLaMater said.
During almost seven months of planning, service members at Andersen raised money and solicited donations for the critical supplies, educational materials and toys that are delivered during Operation Christmas Drop. Andersen AFB collected, sorted and prepared the donations for the joint bundle build with U.S. Air Force, RAAF and JASDF combat mobility flight riggers.
"An event of this magnitude could not have been sustained for 64 years without the dedication and support from a variety of agencies across the board," Toth said. "While the training missions are conducted by the Air Force, it is important to understand that this amazing joint endeavor has donations that come from a strong community right here on the island of Guam."
From military personnel to local community members, there was island-wide participation in the preparation for the big event. Donation boxes were left at both military installations and Government of Guam facilities for people to make contributions in support of Operation Christmas Drop.
"We had members of the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and local community help out to make this year's Operation Christmas Drop possible," said Master Sgt. Martinez-Andino, the 734th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron superintendent and Operation Christmas Drop organization president. "We began this process for the event in March, and we have come a long way, we're all excited to see the outcome."
Last year, the Pacific Air Forces delivered 50,000 pounds of supplies to 56 Micronesian Islands.