The 68th iteration of Operation Christmas Drop is set to take to the Pacific skies, Dec. 9 hosted by the U.S. Air Force’s 36th Wing, based at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
The Department of Defense’s longest recurring humanitarian mission is a long-standing annual tradition of packaging and delivering food, tools, and toys to more than 57 remote islands in the South-Eastern Pacific, including the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau.
During the weeklong international charity effort, Pacific Air Forces airpower ambassadors from Andersen AFB, Guam, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii and Yokota Air Base, Japan, will work with their partners of the Japanese, Australian and, for the first time, New Zealand air forces and includes observers from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand to execute low-cost, low-altitude training airdrops. The aerial delivery will serve as valuable interoperability training for the partner nations while delivering various donations provided by private donors, charitable organizations and the University of Guam.
The tradition began during the Christmas season in 1952 when a B-29 Superfortress aircrew saw islanders waving at them from Kapingamarangi atoll, 3,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. In the spirit of Christmas the aircrew dropped a bundle of supplies attached to a parachute to the islanders below, giving the operation its name. Today, air drop operations include more than 50 islands throughout the Pacific. Operation Christmas Drop includes Airmen and assets from the 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan; the 36th Wing, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; 734th Air Mobility Squadron, Andersen AFB, the 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; the University of Guam; and the ‘Operation Christmas Drop’ private organization which leads the fundraising and donations for the operation. Andersen is used as a “base camp” to airlift the donated goods to islanders throughout Micronesia.
Utilizing the Denton Program, which allows private U.S. citizens and organizations to use space available on U.S. military cargo planes to transport humanitarian goods to countries in need, the C-130J Super Hercules crews airdrop food, supplies, educational materials, and toys to islanders throughout the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of Palau. These islands are some of the most remote locations on the globe spanning a distance nearly as broad as the continental U.S.
Months leading up the drop dates, volunteers create donation drop-off boxes and raise money from local businesses and citizens. A week before the drop, volunteer Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, civilians, contractors and families assist in picking up and sorting the donations. After the goods are sorted, riggers from Yokota and Andersen volunteers build dozens of boxes to hold the materials, most containing school supplies, clothing, rice, fishing equipment and toys.
Each year, the Christmas drops serve as a proving ground for the techniques used and shared with regional partners in preparation for response to natural disasters all too common across this region.
Air crews are linked to the village via ham radio as they fly overhead and drop supplies. The event provides readiness training to participating aircrew, allowing them to gain experience in conducting airdrops while providing critical supplies to 56 Micronesian islands impacting about 20,000 people.
Low-Cost Low-Altitude (LCLA) airdrop is cost-efficient and easy to apply across the global airlift community, utilizing readily available resources and repurposed personnel parachutes to build supply pallets at a fraction of the cost of other airdrop bundles. These pallets are dropped at low-altitude to improve drop accuracy.
Demonstrating and executing LCLA drops alongside regional allies is just one example of the USAF actively pursuing and participating in interoperability partner training to increase Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief operational capabilities while ensuring stability in the Indo- Pacific region.
Nearly seven decades and more than 1 million pounds of charitable goods later, the 2019 missions are set to carry on this tradition of international goodwill.