Operation Christmas Drop occurs each December as the longest-running humanitarian airlift mission in the world.
The Air Force has been parachuting donated gifts and humanitarian supplies over the inhabited atolls south of the Marianas on each December for over 60 years. The exact origin of the operation is unknown, but it is said that the first supplies were dropped around Christmas in 1952.
That year the aircrew of a WB-29 aircraft assigned to the 54th Weather Squadron at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, was flying a mission over the Micronesian atoll of Kapingamarangi, around 3,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. They spotted the villagers waving and decided to gather some items they had on the plane, pack them in a box and drop them down on a parachute. Since that December, this became a tradition that lasts for over 60 years.
More than 50 Micronesian islands receive airdropped items every year, including Chuuk, Palau, Yap and islands in the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Fishing and farming are the main sources of existence for the people on these islands. Many of the inhabitants still live in traditional homes with coconut thatched roofs without any electricity or running water. Their diet consists of fish, bananas, breadfruit, pandanus fruit, and coconut.
Many of the people never leave their island and Operation Christmas Drop is one of the connections they have with the outside world. That is why Operation Christmas Drop is of great significance for the inhabitants and is an event that they look forward every year.
Most of the gifts are donated by civic organizations, the University of Guam, the official Operation Christmas Drop nonprofit organization, military personnel, and family members.
Each box dropped from a C-130 aircraft weighs nearly 400 pounds and contains many items that are very useful to the people that live on the islands, such as rice, canned goods, fishing nets, clothing, shoes, toys and more. By 2006, more than 800,000 pounds (360,000 kg) of supplies were delivered.
However, not all the containers hit their marks and many of them are discovered half buried in the sand, months later, by fishermen. The U.S. Air Force drops the containers out in the water off the beach because they don’t want to hurt the kids who are running and trying to catch the containers.
Last year the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Australian Air Force participated in the operation with the United States Air Force.
Operation Christmas Drop will continue to be the longest running humanitarian airlift mission supported by the Department of Defense.