By DONNA MILES
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON-The world's longest-running humanitarian mission came to a close on Dec. 18, 2012, as U.S. military members and volunteers delivered more than 39,000 pounds of aid and holiday cheer to Pacific islanders during Operation Christmas Drop.
This year marked the 61st anniversary of the mission, providing support to more than 30,000 islanders from Chuuk, Palau, Yap, the Marshall Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, officials reported.
Airmen from the 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, as well as family members and local volunteers, and airmen from the 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, kicked off the mission Dec. 11, officials reported. Carefully preparing packages of toys, clothing, fishing equipment, sporting goods, food items, tools, and other goods, they airdropped them from C-130 Hercules aircraft to 54 islands.
The mission, the oldest of U.S. Pacific Command's outreach activities across the Asia-Pacific region, dates back to 1952. An aircrew from the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, based at the time in Guam, noticed islanders waving to them as they flew over the Micronesian atoll of Kapingamarangi. The crewmembers gathered items from their WB-29 Superfortress aircraft, attached them to a parachute they had fashioned, and airdropped them from the plane.
The islanders-who lived at the time without running water or electricity and had recently been hit by a string of ferocious typhoons-scrambled to retrieve the gifts from above.
The tradition continues today, bringing together military members, students at the University of Guam, and local community and charitable organizations to support a common purpose.
“The time and dedication that people are willing to give is astounding,” said Air Force Capt. Mitchell Foy, who led the Operation Christmas Drop committee. “It's amazing, watching everyone come together to make this humanitarian effort happen.”
Air Force Col. David Gould, the 374th Operations Group commander, said he felt humbled to be part of the outpouring.
“When we all signed up to join the military, it was about service-not only service for our country, but service to the world,” he said. “There are few operations on this planet that demonstrate as much commitment to service as Operation Christmas Drop.”
Air Force Senior Airman Robert Hicks from the 36th Wing public affairs office contributed to this article.