In the Christmas season of 1952 during a routine weather reconnaissance mission, a US Air Force aircrew flying out of Anderson Air Force Base in Guam started a tradition that is still going to this day. In fact, the decision the airmen made that day, some 3,500 miles southwest of Hawaii, has led to the oldest ongoing Department of Defense mission that remains in full operation today.
The aircrew was assigned to the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron which was then stationed at the Guam airbase. The crew flew the WB-29 Superfortress, which specialized in weather monitoring. As they passed over the small Micronesia island of Kapingamarangi, the aircrew noticed the islanders were waving at them. As they circled back to the island, the crew members gather different items from inside the aircraft, put them into small boxes, and dropped the gifts out the back with parachutes. At the time, the island did not have electricity, running water, or an airstrip, so this small gesture from the aircrew meant so much to the islanders.
Since the first box drop over six decades ago, each year this humanitarian effort has flourished to more than 50 Micronesian islands across the Pacific, impacting approximately 20,000 people. The months leading up to Operation Christmas Drop involve many fundraiser events and donations from individuals and businesses. The week leading up to the drop event will see volunteers of military service members and their families come together to pick up donations, sort and pack the crates with goodies, pack the chutes, and prepare the shipments for delivery. The operation will involve 154 bundles equalling 103,000 lbs and includes a variety of goods such as clothes, toys, school supplies, rice, medical supplies, and fishing equipment. This annual event not only greatly benefits the isolated islanders but also provides the 36th Airlift Squadron of the 374th Airlift Wing a chance each year to practice real-time disaster relief airdrop training in C-130J Super Hercules aircraft. Since its beginning, the operation has delivered over 800,000 lbs of supplies.
Today, the mission is a trilateral partnership between the U.S. Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, and the Royal Australian Air Force. To assist with this massive Low-Cost Low Altitude airdrop, Japan and Australia each provide a C-130 Hercules to help cover the 1.8 million square nautical mile operating area in the Pacific.
What an awesome opportunity for the U.S. Air Force to serve the people of the remote islands while mixing in real-world training! Enjoy the videos below of Operation Christmas Drop in 2018 and 2019. Also, check out our FREE Christmas coloring page of Senior Airman Zip, Loadmaster of the 36th Airlift Squadron in the graphic above. Download and print it out and color it with your family over the holiday. Afterward, you can share photos of your work on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #SeniorAirmanZips.