Air Force presents an early Christmas to Pacific island villages
By JAMES KIMBER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 13, 2015
FAIS, Federated States of Micronesia — Santa came early to the villagers on Fais, a small island within the Federated States of Micronesia.
Last week, about 20 men from the three villages here recovered nearly 800 pounds of supplies, food and toys packed into two boxes and then airdropped from a C-130 Hercules from Yokota Air Base, Japan, on the island, which measures 1 square mile.
The supplies, all donated by the international community, included everything from coolers to fishing equipment, from trucks to boxes of crayons. Even the materials used to package the supplies — such as the cardboard box — are prized commodities for the island residents.
The airdrop was part of Operation Christmas Drop, an annual tradition dating back 64 years. What began a small U.S. Air Force squadron’s spontaneous act of holiday cheer has turned into a highly choreographed humanitarian and training effort that involves several air forces, hundreds of volunteers and months of planning.
“Most years, it’s the most important day of the year for us,” said Louis Mangtau, the head chief on Fais. “The people are very excited and truly appreciate the generosity.”
As the boxes parachute down from the sky, the villages’ strongest men chase down the gifts. There are no vehicles on this particular island, so the men must haul them through tall grass and between trees to the center of the main village. There, Chief Mangtau will open, sort and distribute the contents equally to the island’s three villages. Each village chief will determine which family receives what on the basis of each resident’s specific need.
“The chiefs are always fair. The decisions are always equal,” said John Gil, one of the men chosen to carry the bundles from the field to the villages. “We all share everything every day, so it really isn’t who gets what. It’s more like who takes care of what.”
Fifty-six islands are scheduled to receive 88 bundles. They will be performed by the U.S. Air Force, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force. The exercise is scheduled to run through next week.
Chief Louis Mangtau, the chief of Fais Island in the Federated States of Micronesia, sorts through the two boxes of humanitarian aid and Christmas presents airdropped onto the island by a C-130 Hercules from Yokota Air Base, Japan Dec. 8, 2015. Once the chief seperates the 800-pounds of goods into three piles for each of the three villages on his island, the villagers will move the items to their respective villages for equal distribution amongst the families.
JAMES KIMBER/STARS AND STRIPES