Guam assistance won't be dropped
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The Air Force’s 50th annual Christmas drop to Pacific islanders most likely will resume as soon as next month.
Capt. Andrew Purath, a navigator with Yokota’s 36th Airlift Squadron, said it’s tentatively planned for the “February-March time frame.”
“We’re waiting for them to let us know when they’ll be ready to support us, because they’re still cleaning up and trying to recover right now,” Purath said, referring to Andersen Air Force Base on Guam.
Super Typhoon Pongsona, which battered Guam on Dec. 8, postponed the drop’s original Dec. 15 start.
“Some of the bundles were damaged, and they have to rebuild that. There’s just a lot of work that needs to be done,” Purath said.
Estimated storm damage to the Pacific island is $149 million, according to Guam news reports.
Staff Sgt. Jess Harvey, Andersen Air Force Base spokesman, said Thursday that no firm dates for the drop have been established. “We are having a meeting on Friday to discuss plans,” he said.
When the 36th gets the green light, the squadron will send from 100 to 150 personnel and three or four C-130 cargo planes to Guam, Purath said. He added that the number depends on whether the squadron trains in Guam in addition to completing the Christmas drop mission.
Though the 36th AS practices air drops in Japan, it can broaden that training in Guam, a U.S. territory.
With more air space in which to operate, crews can set up “more practice drops and routes,” Purath said.
The 36th AS flew one flight from this year’s drop on schedule Dec. 21. When the mission resumes, it will last for about a week, Purath said.
The late start won’t dampen the humanitarian mission’s holiday spirit, Purath said. In years past, air crewmembers dropping donations from the back of the plane have worn a Santa suit and waved to islanders.
“There’s still a need for supplies on the outer islands. Any time of the year, they’ll be happy to get that stuff,” he said.
The drop targets small, remote islands in Micronesia and the Northern Marianas, north and south of Guam in the western Pacific Ocean. This year’s donations include fishing nets, construction materials, canned goods, clothing, toys, school supplies, powdered milk, rice and other sundries, Harvey said.
Most of the donations, which are sealed in plastic inside cardboard boxes hooked to parachutes, had to be repackaged after the storm.
Each box is about 4 feet wide, 4 feet tall and weighs 500 pounds when full, Purath said. The parachutes are condemned, meaning they’re no longer authorized for carrying people.
“The folks down in Guam sent out for any condemned chutes” last fall, Purath said. “Some are from the Air Force, some are from the Army. We get a waiver to use condemned chutes for that stuff.”