Holiday cheer en route to an island near you
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Military personnel, civic leaders and leadership throughout the Micronesian area of the Pacific gathered here to officially perform a push ceremony for the 63rd annual Operation Christmas Drop Dec. 9.
The push ceremony marks the beginning of the annual humanitarian airlift mission that supplies residents from 56 islands spread out across 3 million square miles of the Pacific with boxes filled with donations from local and international donors. This year, donations included: non-perishable food items, clothing, medical supplies, tools, toys and other items that make islander's day-to-day life easier.
The mission is the longest-running continuous humanitarian effort in the world, beginning just three years after the Berlin Airlift at the conclusion of World War II.
"When the islanders hear the roar of the C-130 Hercules flying overhead, they know exactly what time of the year it is," said Bruce Best, Pacific program coordinator. "This is Christmas for them."
The effort is a combined coordination between members of the 36th Wing, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, the 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan, and members of the 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing, especially the Andersen AFB-based 734th Air Mobility Squadron.
Over approximately a one-week timeframe, 374th aircraft and crews will distribute 50,000 lbs of goods in 89 different bundle drops utilizing a process known as coastal drop low cost low altitude bundling. Under this concept, cargo is carefully packed and loaded on C-130 aircraft. The entire bundle is then dropped to designated drop zones on different island, a process that requires precision airdrop techniques and excellent communication between aircrew members.
However, before any bundle can be dropped, it needs to be filled with Christmas cheer. The 734th AMOS is charged with directing the receipt of good throughout the year. Through radio communication, they identify specific island needs and cater their collection efforts toward that end. Additionally, food, clean water and clothing are collected and are included in the drop efforts.
"Even though the training missions for OCD are conducted by the Air Force, this is truly joint endeavor as donations also come from our community here on Guam," said Brig. Gen. Andrew Toth, 36th Wing commander. "This year, volunteers were able to arrange 107 drop-of locations, making it possible to send more than 50,000 pounds of supplies, the most supplies received thus far."
Donations for this year's OCD came from as afar away as Japan, where two different Japanese Air Self Defense Force bases contributed supplies to the effort.
Once collection is complete and the boxes loaded, members of the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, join 734th MOS personnel to prepare the boxes for coastal delivery LCLA.
In total, it takes approximately six months to plan and coordinate delivery.
"I've been getting calls for weeks asking me when OCD would be happening," said Best. "I tell them to hold on, but I know they're just excited because it's such a huge event. It couldn't happen without the Air Force and the benefits of this program are truly lifesaving. In some cases, this is literally the only chance we have all year to get much needed supplies to obscure island nations."
"Operation Christmas Drop is an outstanding example of how Air Force members from many different units and specialties can come together to successfully plan, organize and execute missions in support of our local communities," said Col. Jeffrey Pierce, 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing vice commander, the parent organization to the 734th AMS. "It's an opportunity for our Airmen to give back and show their appreciation for the support these local communities provide them each day."
For airlifters, this operation not only fills a critical humanitarian assistance mission; it also provides fundamental aircrew training.
"This event provides the great opportunity to practice critical airlift operations in unfamiliar territories," said Col. Douglas Delamater, 374th Airlift Wing commander. "My Airmen look forward to this event every year as a way to exercise crucial humanitarian relief skills. To do so in a manner that benefits so many people in so many places only adds fuel to their fire. As the airlift hub for the Western Pacific, our mission dictates we stand ready to respond to a variety of response scenarios, and Operation Christmas Drop is one critical way in which we do that.
With sustained coordination and concerted volunteer efforts in the Guam community, OCD's unique mission should continue to provide Holiday cheer for years to come.