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Air Force’s Operation Christmas Drop delivers holiday bundles, spirit to Pacific islands

The annual operation airdrops humanitarian supplies and toys to 58 islands across the Pacific.
Patty Nieberg Avatar
A U.S. Air Force 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron C-130J Super Hercules releases an airdrop bundle in preparation for Operation Christmas Drop 2023. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brooklyn Golightly.

Hundreds of packages filled with food, fishing supplies, school books, and toys rained down on Pacific islands earlier this month as part of an annual U.S. military Christmas tradition.

Dubbed “Operation Christmas Drop,” aircrews from the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and Canada dropped more than 200 packages of supplies and toys to over 40,000 people living on 58 islands throughout the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau. The operation took six days and covered 1.8 million square miles.

The mission included C-130J and C-130H aircraft from the Air Force’s 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron performing low-altitude drops with repurposed parachutes carrying supply pallets. 

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This year’s drop also included a multinational elephant walk of the participating planes, which is a close formation of taxiing before takeoff.

The operation is the Department of Defense’s longest-running humanitarian and disaster relief mission, according to the Air Force. Operation Christmas Drop began in 1952 as a charitable initiative but has evolved over the years into a multinational effort highlighting “regional security and humanitarian cooperation,” the service said in a release.

Australia and the Philippines also contributed to ground operations by assisting with aircraft maintenance and airdrop bundle rigging.

In the months leading up to the drop, volunteers put together donation drop-off boxes, raised money, and sorted through the donations. Last week, crews from U.S. allied and partner countries put together the pallets of supplies and decorated them with messages for the holidays.

Operation Christmas Drop was also the subject of a 2020 military-themed holiday romcom in which a congressional aide travels to the Air Force’s base in Guam, where she clashes with an Air Force Captain who knows her assignment is to ultimately defund the facility. At first, their brash personalities and competing professional lives clash but eventually — spoiler alert — they fall in love.

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