Driving the sleigh: Captain Sarah Dolby and First Lieutenant Quinn Van Drew, co-pilot
It’s a tradition that began long before most of those carrying it out were born, but it’s one that the people on islands strung across thousands of miles of Micronesia have come to expect and appreciate over all those years.
According to Pacific Stars and Stripes, “Christmas Drop began in 1952 when crew members of a WB-29 reconnaissance aircraft noticed islanders of the atoll of Kapingamarangi waving at them as they passed overhead. The crew decided to box up items from the cabin, attached a parachute, and circled around to drop it to them. Australia and Japan have assisted in the operation since 2015.”
In 2017, the process is much more thought out and formal, following many years of evolution. The delivery plane is the latest version of the venerable C-130, which is faster than its predecessors, but just as noisy. There’s more concern about safety and security, but the basic mission remains. The boxed up cargo includes food, clothing and many extremely useful items to islanders who can’t whip down to the mall to buy them, like fishing nets and school supplies. There are even some toys.
But the basic process hasn’t changed. Box the Christmas goodies up, attach a parachute and push the precious cargo out the tail of the plane.
The mission this day as in 1952, was to Kapingamarangi, an atoll and a municipality in the state of Pohnpei of the Federated States of Micronesia and to the next southerly atoll, Nukuoro.
The 2017 mission includes the Yokota, Japan-based 374th Airlift Wing and Andersen Air Force Base’s 36th Air Wing. The Royal Australian Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force are also taking part.
The Air Force has also come to realize that the event is highly effective public relations and polished the effort.
Technical Sergeant Napoleon Artiz is a loadmaster for the flight, stationed at Yokota. It’s his third time on the run and he’s had feedback. “At the hotel [on Guam], one of the individuals working at the desk was a young person on one of these islands and they actually thanked us right there on the spot. Obviously that was a long time ago, but the message is still the same. Thank you for providing that service.”
First Lieutenant Quinn Van Drew, co-pilot: “I think it’s a really cool mission. It allows us as a crew to train for relief and support missions that we can do. And it really allows us to get some really good training in an awesome location and to help people have some Christmas joy.”
The plane makes several passes over the islands, to get the attention of those awaiting delivery on the ground and then loops around to make the final delivery with a push out the door.
After two successful deliveries, it’s time to head back north to Guam, after a day covering an area roughly equivalent to the continental United States.
Merry Christmas Micronesia!