Reading time ( words)
“Santa 31 is headed your way!!”
For those on the island of Woleai, and other islands throughout the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau, it’s radio calls like that from the North Pole that make Christmas come a little early every year thanks to Santa’s C-130 Super Hercules from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, participating in Operation Christmas Drop.
“When we get that call saying it's our drop-day and word gets out, the island has a different feel to it,” said Allentino Riugiufmal, Northern Islands Central High School vice principal on Woleai. “The island just has this pure feeling of excitement that is shared across the community, like a child just waiting to see what’s under the tree.
“After the news is radioed in, it's just a matter of time before the only C-130 we see all year long (graces) our skies, delivering the bundles we’ve come to rely on throughout the years. When the day finally does come, and that plane is in the sky, it’s just like Christmas has come early.”
Now in its 68th year, Operation Christmas Drop has not only served as the world’s longest running airdrop training mission, providing critical supplies to 55 Micronesian islands like Woleia, but has also served as a coming together for elders and their communities on their respective islands across approximately 1.8 million square nautical miles throughout the Pacific.
It is that gathering of the elders that determines who gets what goods that has created so many memories for all who have shared in the Operation Christmas Drop magic, memories that have lasted almost as long as the event itself.
“Every Christmas drop is special for the island,” said Santos Bugoman, an 18-year resident of Woleai. “We all have our own memories of (Operation Christmas Drop’s) past. I got my first pair of shoes in one of my first Christmas drops and it’s something I will always remember and cherish. I wore them until I had completely outgrown them and blisters were forming because they were too small. Maybe I was being just a little bit sentimental, but they were so special to me I didn’t want to let go of them.”
While memories of toys and shoes are what the children cherish, for the elders it is the food, medicine and other supplies that have meant the most over the years.
“We all have childhood (memories) of seeing the planes fly over head,” Riugiufmal said. “As we each grew older, we truly understood how important (Operation Christmas Drop) is for the islands. These bundles have toys, yes, but they more importantly carry bags of rice to help feed the 500 villagers we have here. The parachutes and their rigging is used to make sails for our boats and the wire for our spear guns. Some of our bundles were sent solely for our school and contained the educational supplies our students need to thrive.
“Those items are what matter to us and what we appreciate most. Those items, and (Operation Christmas Drop) in general, is what brings us together as a community. I saw some school children saying “Thank you Christmas drop” for the camera. That does not do it justice. On behalf of everyone on this island, our Chiefs, our elders (and) our school children, thank you (Operation Christmas Drop), thank you for all that you have shared with us over the years.”