Air Force's Operation Christmas Drop: Delivering Gifts To Micronesia Since 1952

Culture | December 19, 2019

Santa Claus (Capt. Mike d'Albertis) and Staff Sgt. Tony Thompson watch as a Christmas Drop container is parachuted toward its destination. The annual airdrop is a humanitarian effort providing aid throughout Micronesia. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Santa Claus might ride in a sleigh, but the U.S. Air Force's Santas over Micronesian islands come swooping in on bomber planes to deliver their gifts. The humanitarian effort, known as Operation Christmas Drop, has been happening since 1952, and is the longest-running such effort, joined by many other nations.

It is hard to imagine your first pair of shoes dropping out of the sky at Christmas, but this is reality for some in Micronesia.  It is not Santa Claus that Pacific islanders see in the sky around Christmas time, but rather a C-130 that has arrived to drop gifts from the sky to people on these remote islands.

The Beginnings Of A Tradition

Preparing to drop Christmas gifts. Source: blogs.va.gov

In 1952, Kapingmarangi, an atoll south of Guam had no electricity or running water and the islands were frequently hit by typhoons. When the crew of a WB-29 aircraft assigned to 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, previously assigned to Guam, flew a mission to Kapingamarangi during the Christmas season, they saw islanders waving at them. They gathered some things they had in the plane, put them in a container, and circled around again. They attached the container to a parachute and dropped it down to the waiting islanders. When not all items made it to them, they swam out to retrieve them; some of the items in the drop washed ashore days later.

The Tradition Evolves

Operation Christmas Drop, December 11. 2013. Source: (wikipedia)

This has become the oldest ongoing Department of Defense mission and the longest running humanitarian airlift in the world. It has expanded to include more than 50 Pacific islands. In 2018, these Santas dropped 62,000 pounds of food and supplies to approximately 30,000 islanders.

Now called Operation Christmas Drop, it is much more organized than the original spontaneous air drop. It is now a joint operation and service members from the Royal Australian Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force have joined in to help. It is organized out of Andersen Air Force base, which acts as a base camp for the effort. Additionally, a private organization called Operation Christmas Drop coordinates fundraising and donation efforts.

Preparation For The Event

Staging area for the air drop. Source: (andersen.af.mil)

In the months leading up to the drop, volunteers organize drop off boxes. After collecting the donations, a variety of volunteers, from soldiers to civilians and contractors sort the donations. Then, riggers from Yokota and volunteers from Andersen construct the containers to hold the items.

Christmas Is About So Much More

Inside an elementary school on Kapingmarangi. Source: (micsem.org)

The drop includes essentials such as clothing, rice, fishing supplies, school supplies and yes, toys. As the air crews fly overhead, they communicate with those on the ground via ham radio. They use LCLA (low cost low altitude) airdrops to drop the supplies efficiently. As part of LCLA, they use repurposed personnel parachutes and local supplies, reducing costs substantially. On islands like Woleia, after the drop is complete, elders gather to determine how to distribute the goods. The drop becomes not just a celebration of generosity, but it also acts as a gathering event for the communities. Even the materials used to drop the supplies to the islands are used by the islanders. The parachutes can be repurposed into sails and the wire can be used for spear guns.

The Christmas Drop Has Other Benefits As Well

Parachuting good will. Source: (aerotechnews)

While the people in these remote locations benefit from this Christmas generosity, there are other benefits as well. This coordinated effort serves as training for humanitarian aid during natural disasters.

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Christmas

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Cyn Felthousen-Post


Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!