Christmas Drop

Airmen deliver gifts, supplies to remote Pacific

Story By Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse, 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs


Members of the 36th Airlift Squadron participate in Operation Christmas Drop (U.S. Air Force video/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse/374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs)


F

or children living on the islands in Micronesia, Santa doesn’t deliver presents on his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer or wear his iconic red and white suit; he airdrops them from a C-130 Hercules while wearing an Air Force flight suit.

For more than 60 years, Airmen have flown over these islands around Christmas, dropping donated goods in makeshift bundles to help more than 30,000 islanders inhabiting tiny islands spread across an area roughly the combined size of Alaska and Texas. The yearly endeavor, called Operation Christmas Drop, is the longest-running humanitarian airlift mission in the world.

“This is the mission at Yokota (Air Base, Japan) that everyone wants to go on,” said Capt. Dereck Monnier, a 36th Airlift Squadron pilot and aircraft commander. “We work really hard to practice these airdrops, and this is the opportunity to do a real-world mission that’s actually doing some good.”

A bundle carrying humanitarian supplies and gifts drifts to the ground off the shore an island in Micronesia.

A bundle carrying humanitarian supplies and gifts drifts to the ground off the shore an island in Micronesia. C-130 Hercules crews from Yokota Air Base, Japan, flew missions from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, airlifting the donated bundles to islands in need as part of Operation Christmas Drop. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

This large-scale humanitarian mission had relatively humble beginnings. According to the 36th Wing historian, the exact origin of the operation is unknown, but legend has it that the first supplies were dropped around Christmas in 1952. An aircrew, assigned to the 54th Weather Squadron at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, flew a WB-29 aircraft over a tiny island and saw the villagers below. The crew then packed a box and sent it down on a parachute used for weather buoys. This became tradition and continued each year until Operation Christmas Drop was officially named and organized in 1958.

Holding the same curiosity and compassion as the founders of Operation Christmas Drop, Master Sgt. Cameron Leslie, the 36th Wing career assistance adviser, wanted to learn more about the islanders who benefit from the supplies. Carrying a single, waterproof case holding his belongings and camera gear, Leslie took a missionary flight to Falalop, a small island in the Federated States of Micronesia. He spent the next two weeks traveling to different islands by boat and learning about the culture.

“My goal was to capture Operation Christmas Drop from the islander’s perspective,” he said. “They don’t have much of anything … it’s not like they take trips to buy something. The further you go out on these tiny island chains, the more primitive it gets … and the less they have.”

Master Sgt. Cameron Leslie (background center) took a missionary flight to Falalop, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia, were he spent nearly two weeks traveling to different islands learning about the culture.

Master Sgt. Cameron Leslie (background center) took a missionary flight to Falalop, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia, were he spent nearly two weeks traveling to different islands learning about the culture. (Courtesy photo/Master Sgt. Cameron Leslie)

He witnessed the islander’s joy and excitement when they received an airdrop, as well as how they distributed the supplies they received, making sure everything was used and each family was given their fair share.

“Going there was a really good plus in the sense that we were able to get more focused on what we’re sending to help rather than just taking the random things we don’t use anymore,” Leslie said. The islanders are practical people, and the best things to donate are items such as fishing tackle, flippers, snorkels and spears for spear fishing.

Following his visit, Leslie gave presentations, often as a duo with the Operation Christmas Drop president, Capt. Mitchell Foy, gathering support for future operations. His honest depiction of the islands through words and photos has captivated Airmen from those at Andersen to senior Air Force leaders.

Thanks in part to Leslie’s presentations and photographs, this year’s operation saw far more donations than usual. Several organizations including the University of Guam, the official Operation Christmas Drop nonprofit organization and other units from Andersen and Yokota worked together to deliver the parcels to each island.

Before returning to his family in Guam, Leslie had a chance to talk to one of the island chiefs. Leslie asked a simple but poignant question, “Why is Operation Christmas Drop so important?”

The chief said it wasn’t necessarily the supplies themselves that were most important. The islanders know that the United States is a big country and is involved in many operations at home and abroad. It’s important to them that, with everything else going on, Americans still find time to do this for them and has done so for more than half a century.

An islander from Falalop repurposed a parachute used during Operation Christmas Drop as a sail for his boat.

An islander from Falalop repurposed a parachute used during Operation Christmas Drop as a sail for his boat. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Cameron Leslie)

  • IsLander

    Maybe “they don’t have much of anything” because they don’t need much of anything. They don’t “take trips” to buy stuff because they don’t need stuff. These people have been fishing for hundreds of years and don’t require a snorkel and fins to catch dinner.

    But it’s the thought that counts.

  • Melody Gossett

    Well, at least there are some cultures in the world that don’t despise Americans. Kudos to the organizations and individuals who do this.

  • Joe Azzato

    Bravo! You guys ROCK! Happy holidays to all of you and your families! Stay safe, and Thank You!

    • Anonymous

      No, Joe, it’s THEY who should be thanking YOU. It is YOUR taxpayer money which made these extraordinarily expensive “gifts” possible. See that parachute that fisherman guy has? It probably cost the taxpayer $5000 after all the costs of this unnecessary charity flight. See the used pair of pants that guy got? Cost to you = $400. Our airmen are engaging in a showy wealth transfer of your money to people who don’t particularly need it to make themselves feel and look good. It’s a waste of money and it’s disgraceful. I am not against charity, but I am against showy charity to people who don’t need it, and this scam of a program is definitely both showy and ineffective.

      • Misha

        Yeah, military spending is out of control. This must be why we spend so much, all the aid packages we drop! Nobody pitches a fit when we use a $20k hellfire missile to blow up some 5yr olds.

      • Anonymous

        How long have you been like that ?

      • http://www.facebook.com/A1CPrince Tyler Prince

        Everything you see there, including the parachutes, is bought and paid for by the christmas drop charity organization, not the USAF. The Air Force doesn’t pay anything for any of the gifts dropped. As for the flying and dropping over the islands, the airmen have to train to do live drops anyway, so it’s not wasting anybody’s money, and it’s doing something fantastically charitable at the same time. There literally is no downside the program.

      • Dick Jones

        I am sure that these “missions” can be easily justified as parto f their training regime. Might as well make a humanitarian mission out of a routine requirement for air drop training, navigation training. aircraft loading, etc. Better than dropping worthless loads in the ocean. Actual costs are rather small in light of the fact that our airmen are required to train and these missions served a dual purpose.. Didn’t increase fuel budgets and didn’t increase the number of allocated flight hours. I could go on and on but, I hope you get the point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.buchanan Drew Buchanan

    Absolutely amazing production and story. Thanks for bringing it to us!

  • Cathy L. Suhr

    Great Job! They know they are loved!!! Happy Holidays to ALL OF YOU!!!

  • Sgtsam

    Wow, what a nice well written article and good pics and what a nice place to visit…(or retire to)

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry, but this is absolutely disgraceful. Why, exactly, is taxpayer money being spent (C-130 = $15,000+ per hour) to deliver gifts to individuals? There is no particular strategic interest in micronesia. These people are not particularly desperate compared to thousands in the world. The training benefits of this “mission” are near zero. If the goal was to help these people, we could help a lot more and spend a lot less by sending the same “gifts” via freighter. This appears that the USAF is doing a good deed, but all they are doing is taking money from the general taxpayer and redistributing it. While this leads the unenlightened and easily led of you to declare these people “heroes”, the real heroes would be the ones who would work to put an end to this sloppy sentimental farce.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.stanton.7758 Chris Hydro

      So you’re the guy here, huh? One born every minute……

    • cabbaca20

      Yeah practicing precision air drops would have absolutely no benefit to training what so ever. Especially when the training results in only losing a few hundred dollars of goods if they do not land on target, as opposed to training with real military equipment would could be any where from 40k and up. Some of my favorite days in Afghanistan where when they would drop us supplies, exactly where it was intended (it was like Christmas). I hope they keep training and being the best at what they do. Regards some Army guy.

      • Anonymous

        I know that it’s not necessary to engage in 1500nm of autopilot on cruise flight at 15000$ per hour to do training drops.

        Sorry for being a grinch. I know the US government wastes far more elsewhere and that it’s easier to say “yes” than “no” to something like this, but the reality is that this is government waste, pure and simple. the “training” benefit to this is incidental. they could have done exactly the same drops using exactly the same materials much closer to home.

        this is being “generous” with other people’s money – the taxpayer’s money. this is feel good, photogenic stuff. but, it is wasteful. worst of all are the people here who will invent excuses claiming that it’s not wasteful or try to hide it under a thinly disguised “training” excuse.

        IT’S NOT BEING ‘GENEROUS’ IF YOU DO IT WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY AND COLLECT FLIGHT PAY WHILE DOING SO.

        • http://www.facebook.com/A1CPrince Tyler Prince

          You clearly don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. So stop talking.

    • Skipdallas

      And you know that the training benefits are “near zero” how? Read other comments about air drops and the training needed to be proficient in this operation. You sir are an idiot and a grinch to boot!

    • Bill

      It’s a whole lot cheaper than Air Force one and it’s entourage flying around campaigning and taking vacations.

      I’d say good training for the Air Force doing this.

    • http://www.facebook.com/steven.chipps.5 Steven Chipps

      It’s a start, about being human and disgraceful-no.

  • KLR

    Amazing multi-media piece on an amazing story- who says Santa doesnt exist!

  • one of the morons

    I suspect this is good training, and they imply that the goods are donated. If this is the case, then that’s great. The article kind of sucks for not making this clearer, and it seems anyone with any intelligence would first be asking the costs/benefits to the US taxpayer. It is, after all, their money. I like giving away other peoples money too, but I would never brag about “charity” paid for by others. (hey, come to my office, I’m handing out staplers today.) It also concerns me that the narration says that this is “what they train for” and the mission everyone wants to be on. Really? If that is true our military it screwed up worse than I thought after that jihadist went postal in the “gun free” base a couple years back.

    The second question I ask is how does this affect the Islanders? Even Star Trek understood the prime directive, and I can only imagine the fights over this unearned resource that drops from the sky. Is it shared equally? Does the local Chief dole it out to friends? Are these drops the conch that the islanders are going to fight over? They mention someone seeing it from the Islanders perspective, and I wonder why more isn’t said about that perspective. I wonder if in these 60 years the military has investigated the affects of these drops.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.finstad Jon Finstad

    What? Someone shows a bit of altrusim and you all go off the f’n deep end about it? Omg, they’re spending our tax dollars to give Micronesians fishing lures and parachute material to make sails out of. OMFGBBQ, we should fight these terrorists who take 1 cent from our pockets per year from taxes!! This is not the American way, we NEVER give things to people without wanting SOMETHING back. To think any other way would be completely un-American, of course.
    Seriously, though. Kudos to the Air Force. Altruism hasn’t died and my faith in humanity is restored. Even though it did get knocked down a few pegs by these sociopathic misanthropes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/A1CPrince Tyler Prince

    Fantastic Piece!

  • anonymous viewer

    This is the problem facing the ‘information age” When you put anything on the internet you showcase your content to millions of people who some don’t have the expertise, know-how, experience to reply intellegently. Thats not to say that there not intelligent……just not in the subject at hand. Everybody has a concern about money. The money budgeted for training will be spent. Whether or not its spent on this or training elsewhere…..it gets spent. Why not do it with a good cause rather than drop empty boxes in the backyard. Theres a lot of info that isn’t explained in the video simply because there isn’t much time. Were just trying to show something good and tell a story about something positive that we have been doing for a long time. If we explained every detail about this to appease EVERY single concern EVERY single person had. No body would watch it because it would be too long and boring. We just wanted to highlight some good qualities that our Airmen have. Out of all the things plaguing the US right now, do we really want to pick something like this to start complaining about???

  • RJG

    I will admit to being VERY disgusted at the negative responses that have been posted. For many a year the US was looked upon as the good person in the world who, as stated in the piece, would go out of their way to provide help and aid to others. Why is it that we don’t complain about tons of taxpayer funded aid that we dole out to other countries when a disaster hits, or billions of taxpayer dollars spend bombing innocent civilians, trees and the like yet we can scream loudly because we spend a few dollars to drop some donated supplies to people in Micronesia? Grinch, no I doubt it. It’s a true representation of the Ugly Americans who are a growing pain in our country. A desire of those who have to keep what they have no matter the consequences elsewhere. The live if you can afford it and die if you can’t society. Or as Dickens “Ebeneezer Scrooge” put it so well, “If they would rather die then let them and decrease the surplus population”.

    To those who planned, prepared, and conducted Christmas Drop, a WELL DONE and may this mission continue if for no other reason than that this great country continue on the nobler path even if it does cost us taxpayers a couple of dollars. They were well spent. Mr Fezziwig lives.

    For the remainder kindly leave, as is your right, as you give the rest of us a very bad name.

  • From Federai, Ulithi atoll

    I grew up on that little island called Falalop, ULIthi. as a little kid i would look forward to christmas just because of the Air Drop! I would be on the reefs waving at the C-130 before they dropped of the care package. Thank you guys for everything and keeping the tradition going! it means a lot even though people are saying we don’t need much because we do.. we are getting westernized quickly and things so even though we are primitive.. we are dependent on the money..and I can tell you that every little thing, we have a use for it! thank you again! hosa chachigchig as we would say thank you in the Ultihian language! merry christmas