Delivering gifts where Santa can’t

Ho, ho, ho, here we go. (DOD)

When Santa Claus has a hard time reaching remote Pacific islands, the military helps him out.

Every December since 1952, U.S. servicemen and -women have delivered gifts of school supplies, clothing, rice, fishing equipment, toys and other goods to some of the most remote parts of the Pacific. Operation Christmas Drop doesn’t use an old-fashioned sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, but C-130 Hercules transport aircraft get the job done.

On the way to a drop zone on the island of Mogmog. (DOD)

The annual operation relies on smooth coordination between military personnel and civil volunteers. Listen in to ham radio exchanges between the two groups and you’ll hear exchanges like “Santa 01 is here” and “Santa’s helper is prepared to receive the container.”

“Seeing how the military community and people of Guam come together is the best feeling, knowing that we’re helping deliver Christmas cheer to the outer islands,” says U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Henry Martinez-Andino, president of the Operation Christmas Drop organization.

The project began over 60 years ago, when a military plane crew gathered some food and useful goods at their base, packed them into a canister and dropped it to the residents of the island of Kapingamarangi.

Since then, the U.S. Defense Department’s longest-running airdrop mission has delivered nearly 500,000 kilograms of goods throughout Micronesia. And the project’s still growing: In 2015, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Australian Air Force joined in.

Sometimes islanders must wade out to reach a bundle. (DOD)

As with all kinds of gift giving, those who give also receive. For military participants, the Christmas drops are good training for natural disaster response. And for servicemen and servicewomen, the mission is an uplifting experience.

“This has been the best thing I have been a part of in my 16 years of service,” Martinez-Andino says.

Adding a holiday greeting makes the experience heartwarming. (DOD)