Operation Christmas Drop: when gifts fall from the sky

U.S. Air Force photo

Has Santa traded his sleigh for a C-130 Hercules? That’s what you’d think seeing military pilots wearing red hats to transport cargo boxes adorned with hand-drawn Christmas trees. These festive symbols are all part of what the US Air Force (USAF) calls Operation Christmas Drop. But what is it about? 

It all started back in 1952 when the crew of a USAF Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber belonging to the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron saw islanders waving at them from Kapingamarangi, an atoll belonging to Micronesia. The island was then part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, administered by the United States.  

The aircrew gathered whatever supplies they could find on their aircraft, attached them to a parachute, and airdropped them as they circled back to the atoll. 

Probably unknowingly, they began what would become a yearly tradition for the US military.  

Behind a festive name, a critical humanitarian mission  

Today, Operation Christmas Drop (OCD) is providing supplies to over 50 communities in the Micronesian islands. In addition to toys, the military delivers food, clothing, or medicine to disenfranchised territories, helping over 20,000 islanders. 

Throughout the years, the operation even became international. In 2022, it will also include C-130 transport aircraft from Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand. The benefits are not limited to the civilian communities being helped. It is also an opportunity for the military to train in what the USAF defines as low-cost, low-altitude combat airdrop, as well as interoperability with allied forces. 

“It’s a unique opportunity to work side-by-side with other Indo-Pacific Hercules aircraft and build relationships at the aviator level, which will benefit our cooperation in the future,” Air Commodore David Strong, commander of the Air Mobility Group of the Royal Australian Air Force, explained in a statement

This year, the 71st edition of the operation, aircrews will deliver over 30 tons of supplies in 200 boxes, according to The Guam Daily Post. After several days of preliminary training, the airdrop will run from December 4 to 9, 2022. 

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