There are a lot of terrible things happening in the world. And then, there’s Operation Christmas Drop.
Imagine: it’s December 1952. American Air Force troops are flying from Andersen Air Force base to the southern end of Guam when they notice Islanders on the tiny atoll of Kapingamirangi waving at the B-29 Superfortress as it lumbers above them. Moved by their friendliness, the airmen rummage up some trinkets and treats, pack them in a box, and send them down to the people below via parachute.
And so, 65 years later the Department of Defense is still flying over Kapingamirangi and more than 50 other Micronesian islands, dropping food, toys, and other gifts just in time for Christmas. It’s the longest-running DoD mission, as well as the longest-running humanitarian airlift in the world. A yuletide gesture by a plane full of airmen has grown to a multinational effort including multiple American service branches, the Japanese Air Defense Force, and the Royal Australian Air Force.
The boxes of goodies come from sources like charity runs, corporate sponsorship, and donations by the people of Guam, where Andersen AFB still organizes Operation Christmas Drop every year. Yokota AFB in Japan, the next closest base, has also stepped up to help in recent years.
2016’s drop distributed over 30,000 pounds of food, clothes, fishing supplies, and other goodies to the people of Micronesia, according to an Air Force report. However, the airmen and other servicemembers participating also get something out of the deal.
“It feels great to give back no matter what background you come from,” Capt. Aaron Bowens of the 734th Air Mobility Squadron said in the report, but ““it’s also a great training opportunity because everything we do now for the drops is useful in the real world.”
In Iraq and Afghanistan, these service members will have to carry out humanitarian aid drops in war zones. Operation Christmas Drop lets them do a kind of dry run before they deploy.
As Stars and Stripes reported, the island residents are thrilled to see the crates coming down.
“There’s lots of jumping up and down and kids running out to try and catch the chute,” Lt. Col. Mark Leavitt, a pilot who flew Operation Christmas Drop in the 90s, said. “That’s why we drop it out in the water off the beach – because we don’t want it to land on anyone.”