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  • By Johanna Salinas

Operation Christmas Drop: Flying with Santa

Christmas Drop

As an educated Chamorro woman, I sometimes wonder about the motives of America in our region. While servicemen and women are overall kind and intelligent people, I’m still learning to jive with the U.S. military’s presence on Guam. However, the annual Operation Christmas Drop revealed to me a side of the military not focused on war and intimidation. On Dec. 9, I flew on the C-130H Hercules as they dropped gifts to Fassari, Mogmog, Asor and Falalop.

“The military doesn’t expect anything back from these islands,” said Chief Master Sgt. Elvin Young. “It’s all about giving to the community. From a nation standpoint, we look at it as giving from the heart. We’re not in a receiving mode. It’s an opportunity for us to service the people.”

As the military gives to our neighboring islands this season, the mission stressed to Guamanians that although we’re more westernized compared to other Micronesians, we’re still a part of Micronesia. The trip reminded me that before our islands were divided by outsiders and political statuses, we had been one Micronesia. Many of the donations to be delivered on this flight actually came from Guam’s mayors and their villagers.

“We got the supplies from the local community. Locals took part in building the boxes and putting the contents inside. Among the things we’re donating are rice, clothing, toiletries, books, and toys,” said Young. “We do other operations throughout the Pacific as well, but this Christmas Drop is for our Micronesian brothers and sisters.”

Before getting on the flight, the crew offered us bottles of water, which at first, I politely refused. Yet I recalled how my younger cousin would buy us supplies from base before he deployed to Syria. Thinking of my faraway cousin and his sacrifices, I quickly put a couple of waters in my already heavy bag. In my bag were supplies in case we get stuck on a deserted island: extra clothes, zories and my iPad.

Something I looked forward to on the trip was meeting different servicemen from other parts of the world. The media invitation mentioned that Japanese and Australian military were also volunteering for the drop. “Japan is here to represent our strength in partnership and that we can move together as a team,” said Young. I was saddened that the Japanese were not on our flight, since they were using their own plane for the drop.

This year marks the 67th year of Operation Christmas Drop, which began in 1952, making it the Department of Defense's longest running airdrop mission.

While there were no foreign servicemen on the flight, the C-130 H was operated and piloted by Yokota-based U.S. airman. As they secured the 10 or so boxes at the back of the plane, I’d ask about living in Japan and Japanese culture. The small talk was compressed into short, sharp words as the large engine buzzed in the small space.

Once up in the air, the engine’s buzz grew into an unforgiving groan, killing any conversation on the trip. Although I usually ease my mind by listening to music, I quickly plugged my ears with the complimentary earplugs.

Having traveled before to the Philippines and to Pohnpei, I’ve grown accustomed to reading during my flights. For this trip across the Carolines, I caught up on the novel Less by Andrew Greer. In the chapter on Morocco, Less’s companions were one by one falling ill in the desert. I began to wonder when the protagonist would become ill himself, when I felt an unease as the plane tilted and changed altitudes. I became dizzy and my saliva began to taste of iron. I quickly grabbed an emergency bag and upheaved my peanut butter-banana lunch. Ironically, a week before, the flight coordinator actually claimed peanut butter-banana was a perfect snack and would stay settled in my stomach. But before I could feel embarrassed, I noticed a more experienced traveler across the aisle vomit as well.

As the back of the plane opened, I saw lush, green isles. Two Santa-hat wearing, soldiers strapped to harnesses, pushed boxes onto an island as big as UOG’s campus. From the media’s seat, I could not view the islanders below, yet I could feel great appreciation as the two soldiers heroically waved from above. I wonder about those islanders and the stories they live. What do they look like? How did they embrace the new gifts? These heavy thoughts filled my light head as the back door closed.

Gliding on to the next island, the plane became colder. I dug into my backpack for my sweater and took a Tylenol. Despite closing my eyes and emptying my mind, no sleep came to me. The back door opened and we came into view of another drop site.

The next set of islands were just as small and just as vibrant and leafy as the first. To calm my mind, I focused the small houses hidden in vast jungles and tried to imagine a time when Guam was just as quiet and simple. The two "Santas" pushed the boxes below and again, I could not see the islanders.

Despite being so far from the U.S. and so close to the Carolines, many Guamanians such as myself feel more American and are unaware of these islands. When picturing places different from home, we usually imagine bright cities or snowy landscapes. However, we must remember there are places so close to Guam that are so unlike our home.

As we landed in Andersen, I felt a sense of longing to understand my community and the communities around me. While I do crave to visit scenes bigger and newer than Guam, I’d also like to experience some of these islands nearby. It is amazing how the locals and the military can come together for another successful Christmas Drop. Though many may perceive this as a PR stunt to ease tensions between Guam civilians and the federal government, the Christmas Drop inspires all of Guam, from both sides of the fence, to come together.

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