For the last sixty four years the US army has been playing Santa Claus to some 20,000 people inhabiting dozens of tiny Micronesian islands spread across a vast area in the western Pacific Ocean. Each year in December, these islanders receive all sorts of gifts and useful supplies packed in approximately a hundred crates and dropped gently to earth on green military parachutes. Known as Operation Christmas Drop, this effort on the part of the United States Air Force has been called the “longest running humanitarian mission in the world.”
Operation Christmas Drop has its roots to the Christmas of 1952, when the crew of an Air Force B-29 aircraft, flying a mission to the south of Guam, saw some of the islanders waving at them. In the spirit of the season, the crew gathered some items they had on the plane, placed them in a container, attached a parachute and dropped the bundle to the islanders below.
An airman of the US Air Force pushes a bundle from a C-130 Hercules during Operation Christmas Drop over Guam on Dec. 5, 2016. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Delano Scott
A witness to the first drop on the island recalls, "We saw these things come out of the back of the airplane and I was yelling: 'There are toys coming down'". The effort grew from there into a major annual training exercise.
All the gifts are donated by residents, civic organizations, military personnel and businesses of Guam, which are collected by private organization and the US Air Force, and then sorted and packed into boxes. The items sent to the Micronesian include fishing nets, construction materials, powdered milk, canned goods, rice, coolers, clothing, shoes, toys, school supplies and so on.
The Air Force uses old parachutes that have outlived their military usefulness, but are still strong enough to support bundles weighing up to 500 pounds. The parachute is said to be the most important item on the bundle. Islanders use it for a variety of applications, from roofing their houses to covering their canoes.
Some of these islands are so remote that they receive supplies from passing ships only once or twice per year.
“Christmas Drop is the most important day of the year for these people," said Bruce Best, a communications specialist at the University of Guam who has been volunteering his time to help Operation Christmas Drop for the last 34 year.
“The yearly success of this drop is a testament to the generosity of the civilian and military population of Guam,” said U.S. Air Force sergeant and Operation Christmas Drop committee president. “We continue to do this to help improve the quality of life of the islanders. We may take it for granted that we can go to a mall to purchase our daily needs, but these folks do not have the same privilege from where they live.”
In recent years, the US Air Force has received assistance from members of the Royal Australian Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force in the collection and distribution of the Christmas Drop crates. According to organizational data, by 2006, the Christmas drop operations have delivered more than 800,000 pounds of supplies.
Airmen from the Royal Australian Air Force deliver a low-cost, low-altitude bundle during Operation Christmas Drop 2015 to the island of Mogmog. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Katrina Brisbin
A bundle exits the ramp of a C-130H aircraft during an airdrop mission over the Federated States of Micronesia during Operation Christmas Drop 2013. Photo credit: U.S. Pacific Command/Flickr
A resident of Mokil Atoll waves to the C-130 crew after receiving an air dropped aid package in 2012. Photo credit: United States Air Force/Wikimedia
Loadmasters from the 36th Airlift Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, prepare humanitarian aid bundles destined for remote islands within the Micronesian Islands, Dec. 11, 2012. Photo credit: DVIDSHUB/Flickr
Tech. Sgt. Magen Harger, 36th Medical Support Squadron medical lab technician, pushes a box of supplies to islanders Dec. 11, 2014, over the Pacific Ocean. Photo credit: U.S. Pacific Command/Flickr
Senior Airman Angel Torres, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130 Hercules loadmaster, pushes a low-cost, low-altitude bundle drop over the Federated States of Micronesia during Operation Christmas Drop 2016. Photo credit: U.S. Pacific Command/Flickr
Packages make their way to the shore of Kayangel Island during Operation Christmas Drop 2013. Photo credit: U.S. Pacific Command/Flickr
Islanders watch a C-130 Hercules fly overhead during Operation Christmas Drop 2015 at Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia, Dec. 8, 2015. Photo credit: US Air Force/Flickr
A bundle carrying humanitarian supplies and gifts drifts to the ground off the shore an island in Micronesia. C-130, on December 18, 2012. Photo credit: U.S. Pacific Command/Flickr
Micronesian islanders receive supplies airdropped from a C-130 Hercules near Andersen Air Force Base, on December 16, 2013. Photo credit: U.S. Pacific Command/Flickr
Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) and U.S. Air Force members gather for a group photo on the occasion of Operation Christmas Drop 2014. Photo credit: U.S. Pacific Command/Flickr
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