374th AMXS, the Airmen behind Operation Christmas Drop
Twenty-five tons of critical supplies airdropped to 56 Micronesian islands impacting more than 20,000 people. A tall task taken on by the servicemembers who take part in Operation Christmas Drop.
While OCD continues on as the longest running airdrop training mission, serving as a platform to better prepare the U.S. Air Force and its allies, the Japan Air-Self Defense Force (Koku Jietai), and the Royal Australian Air Force, to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the region, the event also serves as a chance for the maintainers of the 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron to train in an environment away from the comforts of home.
“There are a lot of pieces that go into making the airdrops happen,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Jimenez, 374th AMXS instrument flight control systems technician. “Before our C-130J Super Hercules leave and the second they return is our time to shine. Whether at home or travelling with our planes, our job is to ensure they can fly and continue fulfilling their mission.”
While that job is easier to do at their home station of Yokota Air Base, Japan, the Airmen of the 374th AMXS have met and will continue to meet the challenges OCD provides.
“The biggest difficulty of executing our mission out here is that we have to provide our own support and resources,” said Jimenez. “Out here we have to get to the bottom of things quickly. When it comes to travelling with our planes we have to try and forecast the equipment we will need in certain climates and conditions. A lot is at stake if we plan incorrectly.”
When it comes to planning accordingly for the best level of mission success, historical forecasting isn’t the only thing taken into account.
“As odd as it may sound, each of our planes has a personality,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Haston, 374th AMXS electrical and environmental systems craftsman. “As maintainers we get to know the planes we work with on a daily basis. We learn what tends to need to be replaced more often and every plane is different. It’s our job to know and anticipate the plane’s needs based on how well we know it. That is how we can best plan for the future.
“While having that relationship with our aircraft is big in planning to meet certain missions, it is through going to these remote locations that we truly get to know our craft on an even deeper level. It’s through coming to missions like OCD that we really get to create the next set of seasoned maintainers who truly know their craft.”
Despite the challenges of doing their job away from Yokota, the maintainers never forget what their job means to the mission.
“We take so much pride in our work,” said Haston. “Our planes aren’t just machines to us. When we work long hours every second of it matters because people fly in our aircraft. Not only does the crew rely on our work but when it comes to OCD, the 20,000 people on those islands receiving the mission critical supplies rely on us as well.
“While we don’t get to see the bundles being dropped personally, when we see a fully loaded up C-130J go out and come back empty, we know we helped make a difference.”
Airmen from the 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron monitor the instrument readings while communicating with the flying crew chief via radio during an aircraft refueling process at Operation Christmas Drop 2018 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Dec. 9, 2018. OCD serves as a training platform for the U.S. Air Force and its partners to better train for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief through the use of Low-Cost, Low-Altitude airdrops on unsurveyed drop zones throughout the Pacific.