Operation Christmas Drop
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Military members from the U.S. Air Force, Coast Guard and Navy, with international support from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force are joining forces to airdrop and deliver donated toys, clothes, food items and other necessities to remote islands across the Pacific Ocean as part of Operation Christmas Drop 2016.
The annual training mission officially kicked off during a ceremony Dec. 6 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, where military leaders across the island pushed the first pallet of donated goods into a C-130 Hercules.
“I’m proud that Andersen is hosting Operation Christmas Drop,” said Brig. Gen. Douglas Cox, 36th Wing commander. “I am happy to welcome our partners from Australia and Japan, it is wonderful to have you with us this holiday season.”
C-130s from the 36th Airlift Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, Royal Australian Air Force, and Japan Air Self-Defense Force will be flying over the Pacific to airdrop goods to the islanders. More than 45 airmen are participating from both the RAAF and the JASDF.
Sixty-five years in the running, Christmas Drop is the Department of Defense’s longest-running humanitarian airlift operation. The tradition began during the Christmas season in 1952 when a B-29 Superfortress aircrew saw islanders waving at them from the island of Kapingamarangi, 3,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. In the spirit of Christmas the aircrew dropped a bundle of supplies attached to a parachute to the islanders below, giving the operation its name. This year brings together three nations, three corporate sponsors and three U.S. military branches. Today, air drop operations include more than 50 islands and thousands of people.
“It feels great to give back no matter what background you come from,” Capt. Aaron Bowens, 734th Air Mobility Squadron, Operation Christmas Drop organizer. “It’s also a great training opportunity because everything we do now for the drops is useful in the real world.”
More than 11 months of planning and preparing went into Christmas drop, said Bowens. The Operation Christmas Drop volunteers at Andersen AFB and Yokota AB raised more than $52,000 from fundraisers and collected more than $20,000 in donated goods to aid in the humanitarian mission.
Military and civilian volunteers loaded 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of clothes, rice, fishhooks and other necessities into large-capacity boxes, before Airmen weighed and secured the boxes in preparation for delivery.
Twenty-two sorties are scheduled to be flown, covering more than 50 islands, where 140 boxes of donated goods will be dropped.
Even though military cargo aircraft are much louder than Santa’s sleigh, they are just as ready to bring joy to the island families.
Reservists pitch in
Nine U.S. Air Force reservists from the 44th Aerial Port Squadron, who specialize in air terminal operations, worked with their active-duty counterparts during the Christmas Drop.
“The best thing about this experience is being able to help those who are less privileged, and at the same time we are becoming more proficient as air transportation specialists,” said Master Sgt. David Popp, 44th APS.
The Reservists, who were in charge of loading and unloading the bundles for Operation Christmas Drop, worked with aircrew from the 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Force Base, Japan, and their mission partners the Royal Australian Air Force and the Japanese Self Defense Force.
“Operation Christmas Drop gives us a unique experience of working with other countries and building relationships,” said Staff Sgt. Nelson Dacanay, a specialist from 44th APS. “This is a joint operation and we are all working together to make Christmas a little brighter for our neighboring islanders.”
– Master Sgt. Theanne Herrmann, 624th Regional Support Group
Navigating Christmas Drop
This is it. Years of training, months of planning, days of briefings and hours of flight have lead to this single moment. One mistake could mean that a remote island does not receive supplies that they’d been looking forward to since last year. The pilots, engineer, loadmaster; each crewmember of the C-130 Hercules plays an important role in delivering the bundle. However, airlift during Operation Christmas Drop 2016 could not be accomplished without the C-130H navigator.
The navigator drives the C-130H mission here at OCD. Utilizing the Self Contained Navigation System, which houses the waypoints of different locations, navigators tell the pilots where to fly the plane. The SCNS also contains ballistic data that helps the navigators to decide when a bundle should leave the aircraft.
At Christmas Drop, C-130H’s utilize drops zones that are built on the fly by the navigator. Normally, the navigator has a survey that tells them the exact coordinates of where to drop while also having someone on the ground measuring the wind. However, at Christmas Drop, crewmembers do not have access to these luxuries. When delivering bundles to remote Micronesian islands, they have to do it all on the fly.
“Situations like these legitimize the training we do throughout the year,” said Capt. David Lynn, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130H navigator. “It’s the ultimate test of job knowledge. Do you know how to analyze the winds? Can you look outside and use visual references and not rely on the computer? These are some of the questions you’ll have to ask and answer yourself. When we do a lot of our training, it’s about trying to hit a dot on the ground. Here, it’s about getting the supplies to the people.”
For navigators, OCD’s unique training opportunity also presents a noteworthy challenge that appears in the final minute before a drop. With an array of different factors impacting the bundle, including wind speed and ballistic effects of parachutes coming down to the ground, ensuring that the drop is precise and retrievable by the islanders is no small tasking.
“Everything has to be perfect,” said Capt. Darryl Lawlor, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130H navigator. “Ensuring precision each and every time we drop is something I’m confident our guys are able to accomplish and that’s something I take pride in. I am grateful that I can rely on everyone else on my team to make my job successful.”
– Airman 1st Class Delano Scott, 374th Airlift Wing
Remembering Airman Jutba
On a bright and breezy morning, participants of the mission from the United States, Australia and Japan Air Forces gathered around the open cargo hold near the tail of a C-130 Hercules. Inside, underneath precisely hung U.S. and Hawaiian flags, the ramp held a special aerial delivery bundle decorated with images of a Senior Airman gone, as they say, much before his time. The words across the front of the bundle read, “In loving memory of Jeremy Jutba-Hake.”
At the gathering, Hake’s friends, leadership and family told stories of how he led and served with them and of the legacy he left behind. Judging from the amount of tears upon the cheeks of attendees, “Jutba,” as most called him, was clearly loved by many.
Jutba served as a C-130H instructor loadmaster with the 36th Airlift Squadron, 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan, from November 2013 to 2015. During post-flight duties following a training mission at Andersen utba collapsed and later died.
At the time, he was participating in the annual Christmas Drop.
“He had a contagious smile,” said Jutba’s mother, Eva Hake. “He told his father last year how happy he was to be a loadmaster and he loved his job. He loved his squadron and all the people he had met along the way. He always lived like there was no tomorrow.”
Those who knew Jutba say he lived the kind of life that left an impression on many, evidenced by the words and actions of those with whom he served. After his passing, his fellow Airmen began a memorial foundation in his honor. The foundation’s name: Santa 61; the call sign of Jutba’s last flight.
Senior Airman Anthony Schoof, a fellow 36th Airlift Squadron loadmaster and friend of Jutba’s, helped start the foundation and helped prepare Jutba’s memorial bundle for the ceremony.
“All the money donated to Santa 61 goes to Operation Christmas Drop because this mission is the best thing a loadmaster can do,” Schoof said. “We love it and I know he loved it.”
“I’m really excited to help preserve this 65 year tradition of extending help to our island neighbors,” said Tech. Sgt. Marc Spangler, Christmas Drop committee member. “Knowing that everything we collected over the year will help these people; makes everything worth the time and effort put forth by everyone involved.”
– 374th Airlift Wing