Crewmembers of a C-130 Hercules assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron fly over remote a Micronesian island during Operation Christmas Drop 2016, Dec. 5, 2016. This year marks the 65th year of Operation Christmas Drop, which began in 1952, making it the world's longest-running airdrop mission. (Photo by U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Delano Scott)
Staff Sgt. Andrew Thompson and Airman 1st Class Alejandra Vargas, loadmasters from the 36th Airlift Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, push boxes of gifts off a C-130 Hercules over a remote Micronesian island during Operation Christmas Drop Dec. 8, 2016. This year marks 65 years of Operation Christmas Drop, a humanitarian airlift operation, which provides joint airlift training opportunities for both peace and wartime efforts. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob Skovo-Lan)
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- The U.S. Department of Defense’s longest-running humanitarian mission came to a close Tuesday, Dec. 13 when members of Team Yokota concluded their contribution to the 65th annual Operation Christmas Drop (OCD).
In seven days of operation, the 36th Airlift Squadron from the 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan combined efforts with the Royal Australian Air Force and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to deliver 140 bundles, the most in OCD history, throughout the Federated States of Micronesia, Northern Marianas and the Republic of Palau via airdrop. Collectively, the bundles totaled 43,360 pounds of aid; including medical supplies, clothing, fishing supplies and holiday cheer.
“It was a great success,” said Capt. David Lynn, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130 Hercules navigator and Operation Christmas Drop mission planner. “We stayed on schedule even though there were obstacles we had to overcome.”
With the treacherous weather of the Pacific and unforeseen maintenance issues influencing the scripted flight schedule, mission planners and aircrew members were forced to continuously improvise in order to complete their mission.
“Even with a forever-changing plan of how we would tackle our mission, we never got behind schedule,” Lynn said. “We still flew the exact the number of sorties each day that we had scheduled. It’s a credit to the people I work with and their dedication to their job. If anything ever did come apart, our leadership was well prepared with immediate solutions to find a way to make it happen.”
Over the course of OCD, the 36th AS completed 127 flight hours. The airdrop mission allowed the U.S. and its allies to practice essential combat skills and demonstrate commitment across the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, while coming together to lend a helping hand to Guam's island neighbors.
“Although OCD is a humanitarian aid mission that is planned a year out, if we were called to respond to a crisis, to load up our aircrafts with supplies and deliver them to specific coordinates to get people what they need, we could and would do it,” Lynn said. “That’s what we just did with 140 bundles crossing 54 islands. Whether it’s a remote mountain or a desert, we could take what we did here and deliver the supplies to the people that need it anywhere in the world.”
This OCD took on special significance for 36 AS members as it marks the last time a Yokota C-130H will participate. In the coming months, the squadron plans to transition to the newer C-130 J-model. To prepare to execute OCD next year, a cadre of J-model experts from the 36th AS were brought to this year’s operation to observe mission planning and execution.
“There are so many things happening when you have a complex mission such as OCD, there’s no way you can consider everything beforehand,” Lynn said. “However, having now been here and seeing the uncertainties of situations and how they’re handled, this experience will give our J-model crewmembers a better starting point to go forth and carry out the mission. Leadership has definitely put them in a position to succeed and to gain as much information as they needed to be just as successful next year.”
Additionally, as this year’s OCD was the RAAF’s second using their C-130J, Yokota crewmembers were invited to join them in the mission planning process and in flight to gain better situational awareness and prepare them for next year’s mission.
“As the only J-model operator here at OCD, it’s important that the RAAF use this opportunity to help the 36th AS in their transition,” said Royal Australian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Andrew Morgan, C-130J Super Hercules pilot. “Here at OCD, U.S. crews can see exactly what needs to be done to operate the J-model as opposed to the H-model. With a larger range and more speed, the J-model offers additional capabilities that the 36th AS can capitalize on next year.”
Yokota aircrew members are confident that the J-model will get the mission done just as the trusted H-model has for decades.
“Though there could be some growing pains, they will make it work,” Lynn said. “That’s what C-130s and their operators do; it’s always been and will always be that way. You get tasked with something and you find away to get it done.”
So, while parachutes used in this year’s operation are still drying out on islands across the Pacific, and with island fervor at its annual high, preparations for the next Christmas Drop have already begun. The enthusiasm and passion for delivering humanitarian aid throughout the region continues to fuel those charged with carrying out future operations. If the past is any indication of the future, participation in next year’s Christmas Drop will surely continue the tradition of enhancing airlift capabilities while bolstering relationships in the Pacific, one bundle drop at a time.