Christmas came early for some remote west Pacific communities, with five C-130 Hercules from four nations delivering much-needed goods to 55 Micronesian Islands during the world’s longest-running humanitarian airdrop activity.
Coordinated by the United Sates Pacific Air Forces, the Royal Australian Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force and, for the first time, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Operation Christmas Drop used five C-130J and C-130H variants from December 8-14 to air-drop a record 176 boxes to more than 20,000 people.
On the first mission day, the RAAF C-130J crew – call sign Santa 18 – launched from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam and flew to a drop zone (DZ) to deliver essential supplies for the people of Kapingamarangi, about 1500km from Guam.
No. 37 Squadron C-130J pilot Flight Lieutenant Andrew Morgan said the C-130J’s additional fuel tanks enabled them to fly longer distances to the outskirts of the Micronesian region.
“During the week-long operation, we flew three missions to deliver 23 loads to remote Pacific communities,” Flight Lieutenant Morgan said.
“Our crews airdrop loads by parachute to island communities spread over six million square kilometres, including to the people in the Republic of Palau and Federated States of Micronesia.
“Each drop load weighs up to 200kg and contains items such as construction materials, fishing nets, rice, sporting equipment and school supplies.
“Utmost precision is required to safely deliver loads to the DZ, which can be a thin stretch of beach, a small clearing, or a lagoon from where they can be safely and quickly recovered.
“Dynamic real-time training proves our ability to work shoulder-to-shoulder for the common goal of peace and stability in the region.
“There’s also tremendous satisfaction in bringing some Christmas joy to remote communities across the Pacific Ocean.”
The remote communities eagerly anticipate the annual air drops of boxes covered in goodwill messages and filled with donated goods from the participating nations.
Sergeant Jamie Polzin, RAAF C-130J loadmaster of No. 37 Squadron, said she was honoured to be part of the strong partnership for the humanitarian assistance tradition.
"All the kids know exactly what it is and they wait down on the beach for Christmas to arrive."
“Australia was invited to participate in Operation Christmas Drop back in 2015 and since then we return each December to work alongside our American, Japanese and Kiwi mates,” Sergeant Polzin said.
“This year, international observers from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand came along to see the humanitarian efforts in action.
“From Bundle Build Day to the push ceremony (official opening ceremony) and daily mission days, the relationships we form and shared tactical airlift training during the operation is invaluable.
“Should Australia be called upon in the event of a natural disaster or humanitarian aid request, we can hit the ground running knowing exactly how each other work in combined operations.
“These communities don’t have access to the supplies we deliver each year, so in their eyes we really are Santa.”
The heart and soul of Operation Christmas Drop for 35 years, Brother Bruce Best, expressed his gratitude.
“I’m so happy you guys made it back to Guam, this is the greatest day of the year for all of the Pacific Islanders,” Brother Bruce said.
“I run the radios, coordinate all the drops to the islands and talk to the pilots. Thank you for bringing your aircraft all the way from down-under.
“These are the most remote islands in the world, they don’t have airstrips, cell phones, power or water; no electricity or money, they don’t even see a sail boat for up to five to six months sometimes.
“So when they see those C-130s rumble across the sky, all the kids know exactly what it is and they wait down on the beach for Christmas to arrive. It’s the best day of their life.
“Thanks so much for showing up – you guys rock.”
The humanitarian aid drop started from United States Air Force activities in December 1952 when a B-29 Superfortress aircrew was inspired to drop bundles to islanders on Kapingamarangi.
It has continued for many decades, with recent support from partner nations in the Indo-Pacific region.
More photos can be viewed at: http://images.defence.gov.au/S20193314