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Allied elephant walk and multinational interfly mark end of Operation Christmas Drop 2023

By Skies Magazine | December 12, 2023

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 4 seconds.

A spectacular display of aerial might was shown on the flightline of Andersen Air Force Base (AFB) in Guam on Dec. 9, as a six-ship C-130 elephant walk marked a historic moment in Operation Christmas Drop (OCD) — underscoring multinational readiness.

Participating in the procession were three U.S. Air Force (USAF) C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from the 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, joined by global counterparts: a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) C-130J from 436 Transport Squadron, a Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) C-130H Hercules from the 401st Tactical Airlift Squadron, and a Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) C-130H from the 251st Airlift Squadron.

Elephant walk at Andersen AFB on Dec. 9, 2023, featuring three U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, a Royal Canadian Air Force C-130J, a Japan Air Self-Defense Force C-130H, and a Republic of Korea Air Force C-130H. Tech. Sgt. Taylor Altier Photo

The historic moment unfolded as the military cargo planes made their way down the runway in unison, setting the stage for the first-ever multinational interfly in the history of Operation Christmas Drop. Post-elephant walk, aircraft and crews “from each participating nation took to the skies, symbolizing the successful interoperability achieved through OCD 2023 and honouring the dedicated crews from the USAF, RCAF, JASDF, and ROKAF,” U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a news article.

The multinational interfly also marked the conclusion of a remarkable collective effort over six days. The crews delivered 210 bundles filled with 84,000 pounds of humanitarian aid to 58 islands, reaching over 42,000 remote Micronesian islanders across 1.8 million square miles. According to the operation’s Facebook page, one island was added this year, as well 10 additional boxes, making the 2023 operation the largest ever.

OCD is the U.S. Department of Defense’s longest-running humanitarian airlift operation. The tradition dates back to the Christmas season of 1952, when a B-29 Superfortress aircrew spotted islanders waving from the island of Kapingamarangi, located 3,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. In the spirit of giving, the aircrew decided to drop a bundle of supplies, attached to a parachute, to the islanders. And the rest is history.

Today, OCD uses Andersen AFB as a base camp to airlift donated supplies to islanders throughout Micronesia.

(Left to right) U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. James Hurst and Master Sgt. Michael Demik, 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron C-130J Super Hercules loadmasters, push bundles over the Republic of Palau, Dec. 3, 2023. Pacific Air Forces Photo

“Operationally, my favourite part is seeing everyone’s faces when they come back after doing their first real drop,” Maj Zach “Badger” Overbey, USAF OCD mission commander and pilot, told Tech. Sgt. Taylor Altier with 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs. “They see the aid they’re giving the islanders and the difference they’re making.”

JASDF LCol Shinya Takasaka, OCD 23 Japan lead, had a similar experience, stating: “When we flew over Palau, we saw a lot of people waving our Japanese flag. I was able to feel firsthand how much people had been waiting for us, and it was a very meaningful mission for me, both as a pilot and as a squad leader.”

This year’s OCD saw another historic first as Canada joined the mission. The RCAF provided vital airlift support, as well as personnel for rigging bundles of aid and conducting aircraft maintenance.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Miranda Bapty, 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron Operation Christmas Drop 2023 deputy mission commander, flies over the Republic of Palau, Dec. 3, 2023. Pacific Air Forces Photo

RCAF Capt Isaac Bates, 436 Squadron pilot, shared his experience with 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, stating, “It was so rewarding to see the islanders waving up at us and running to get their presents. The work that we have put in has come together nicely and we integrated well. We’re looking forward to bringing this experience back to Canada and hopefully come back next year with new people to share in this amazing experience.”

ROKAF Maj Sungwoo Park, C-130H instructor pilot, added: “There’s a saying, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Like this proverb, OCD . . . is all the more worthwhile in a sense that every participant has one mind and one goal, practicing love of humankind. I hope OCD develops and expands even further to the point that more nations and people can join the operations.”

While Operation Christmas Drop is a tradition that helps those in need, it also serves as a vital multilateral joint training exercise “to improve the individual and united Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Response capabilities of each participating nation,” U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said.

“I believe that through OCD 23, we will be able to further improve the interoperability of Japan and the United States and strengthen multilateral cooperation as well as contributing to the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said JASDF’s Takasaka.

Pacific Air Forces Photo

Operation Christmas Drop 2023 officially wrapped up on Dec. 9. All four flying nations — with additional ground support from the Royal Australian Air Force and Philippine Air Force, as well as support from sponsors, donors, and volunteers — came together this holiday season to make a real difference in the lives of those in need.

Follow Operation Christmas Drop on Facebook for more photos from this year’s successful mission.

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