WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Air Force made a special Christmas delivery to people living on some of the most remote islands in the world, airdropping more than 3,200 pounds of cargo as part of its 69th annual Operation Christmas Drop (OCD).
"This year is a story of hope," Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lou Splichal, Operation Christmas Drop 2020 senior enlisted leader, said. "To come here and show that we can still do this mission, which we are accustomed to doing but, moreover, ensure that it takes care of people, is at the heart of it all."
Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, united with Yokota Air Base, Japan, and the Japan Self-Defense Force (JASDF) for the 69th annual OCD, delivering love from above for the people of the Palau, an archipelago of over 500 islands, part of the Micronesia region in the western Pacific Ocean. C-130 aircrews airdropped 64 bundles Dec. 6- 10.
Due to challenges of COVID-19, this year was a little different than years past; however, a lot of hard work was done to ensure the success of OCD.
Spotlight: Coronavirus: DOD Response
Before leaving for Guam, all Yokota Air Base, Japan, personnel involved in the operation had to restrict their movements to their place of residence for 14 days and test negative for COVID-19.
Before bundles were assembled, all donated items were held in a sanitized location for a minimum of 24 hours. During the bundle build, all participants were required to wear masks and gloves. Bundles were then disinfected and remained in a sanitary location for a minimum of 72 hours before being loaded onto a C-130 for delivery.
"There were a lot of measures we took to make sure that what we did was in line with the DOD [Defense Department] and the CDC [Centers of Disease Control] guidelines," Air Force Maj. Joseph Spitz, OCD mission commander, said. "This allowed us to mitigate the risk of spread and transmission of COVID-19 to the islanders of Palau."
Getting these critical supplies of food, medicine and other items necessary for survival to the people in Palau has always been at the root of the OCD mission. This year, as a historic first, the islands of Koror and Peleliu also received bundles of aid.
"The islands farther out may not see aid for an entire year, and OCD is the only opportunity for them to get that life-sustaining aid, specifically with some of the challenges associated with a global pandemic," Spitz said. "Not to say they're not being taken care of, but there's a unique advantage that OCD has using that space available tactical airlift to deliver humanitarian aid to these islands that really can't be replicated."
OCD continues a tradition of not only helping those in need but working with our partner nations to better meet the ever-evolving needs of the region, and, for the past six years the JASDF has participated as a vital part of the mission. The aircrews were able to accomplish vital training on the techniques used and shared between the nations to better respond to natural disasters in the Indo-Pacific region.
"[This operation] is not a single person, squadron or unit exercise," Spitz said. "I don't know that we could accomplish this mission without the support of Anderson, Yokota, or without the support of our JASDF partners of whom we've come to rely on so heavily and enjoy their participation."
Having the opportunity to work in a bilateral capacity with the JASDF during OCD — and in years past with the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force — continues to strengthen our interoperability and response capabilities in deterring aggression, providing humanitarian and disaster relief and maintaining an open and free Indo-Pacific.
With the bundles dropped, experienced gained, relationships built, and supplies delivered, it was the spirit of helping others that would prove to leave a lasting impression on all of the crews that took part.
"The impact that this operation has on the islanders — not on just Micronesia and Palau, but the level of care and appreciation from the people of Guam — is something you're not going to see anywhere else," Spitz said. "I don't want to be in a world where Operation Christmas Drop doesn't exist."