ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- The men and women from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam and Yokota Air Base, Japan, dropped its last bundle of joy Dec. 13, to the Micronesian Islands as Operation Christmas Drop came to an end just in time for the holiday season.
What started as a small crew packing what they could in a small canister and dropping it down on a parachute during a Pacific sortie in 1952 has turned into Operation Christmas Drop, the Defense Department's longest running humanitarian mission.
During a one-week timeframe, residents from 56 islands spread out across 3 million square miles of the Pacific, received boxes filled with donations from local and international donors. This year's event set a milestone with more than 51,000 pounds of supplies donated and delivered.
"Having the opportunity to fly over the islands at 300 feet was amazing," said Brig. Gen. Andrew Toth, the 36th Wing commander. "I got to see the red flag marking the location where the box was to go and listen to the communication over the radio saying 'Santa 01 is here and Santa's helper is prepared to receive the container.'
"Watching the aircrew drop the box in the exact location and seeing the islanders swim out to get it and bring it back to shore assures me we didn't only make their day, but we made their entire year. Santa Claus was there to deliver a great gift to each and every one of them," he continued.
Throughout the missions Yokota aircrews gave Airmen opportunities of a lifetime and lasting memories they will never forget.
"Being on the plane and seeing how small the islands are was eye opening," said Tech. Sgt. Magen Harger, a 36th Medical Support Squadron medical laboratory technician. "Seeing how little the islanders have access to, and how grateful they were to get the packages, was one of the most amazing things I have experienced in the Air Force. Pushing the box from the plane and watching it float down helped me realize just how much I take for granted every day."
The men and women from Andersen and Yokota came together and airdropped a total of 89 bundles of goods, each weighing approximately 500 pounds, which include Chuuk, Palau, Yap, Marshall Islands and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The bundles consisted of donated toys, clothing, fishing equipment, sporting goods, food items, tools and other items that would make island life easier.
Six months before the C-130 Hercules soared into the sky to execute Operation Christmas Drop, several agencies from Andersen, Yokota and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, came together to start planning.
"I was getting calls for weeks asking me when Operation Christmas Drop would be happening," said Bruce Best, the Pacific program coordinator. "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."