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Yokota’s new Super Hercules cargo planes take over Christmas Drop mission

A pair of Operation Christmas Drop bundles fall toward an isolated Micronesian island, Dec. 13, 2017.

DAVID OWSIANKA/U.S. AIR FORCE

By LEON COOK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 21, 2017

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — New technology on Super Hercules transport planes has helped crews airdrop Christmas gifts to Pacific islanders with pinpoint accuracy.

The C-130Js, which recently replaced the 374th Airlift Wing’s fleet of older C-130H models at Yokota in western Tokyo, flew out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, this month during Operation Christmas Drop.

The operation, which has delivered much-needed supplies to isolated islands each December since 1952, was particularly on point this year.

“The avionics suite that we have on board definitely allows us to analyze our drop zone very carefully, making sure that we’re delivering those bundles not only in an ideal location for recovery by the islanders, but also a safe location,” Capt. Brian Dendy, one of the Yokota-based pilots who flew Christmas Drops missions this year, said in an Air Force statement.

Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, U.S. Forces Japan commander, has described the C-130J as the “meanest, toughest, and most tactical machine in the world.” It flies with two fewer crew members than its predecessor and has improved avionics, increased cargo capacity, improved fuel economy and a longer range.

Christmas drops this year involved U.S., Japanese and Australian airmen delivering more than 140 crates of supplies, each weighing about 400 pounds, to 56 islands in the Federated States of Micronesia, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Republic of Palau.

The bundles contained items such as fishing nets, construction materials, powdered milk, canned goods, rice, coolers, clothing, shoes, school supplies, and, of course, Christmas toys.

Andy Nepaial, 58, who grew up on the tiny, now-uninhabited island of Agrigan — also known as Agrihan — in the Northern Marianas, has fond childhood memories of the Christmas drops.

“When the airplanes were rumbling over the island, the whole island was shaking like it was going to crack in two,” he told Stars and Stripes on Thursday.

Nepaial vividly remembers watching the planes drop smoke grenades to gauge wind conditions in the drop zone — calculations now performed via the sophisticated electronics suite in the C-130J.

“We saw these things coming out of the back of the airplane and I was yelling: ‘There are toys coming down,’” Nepaial said of the first Christmas drop mission to Agrigan in the 1960s.

Larry Raigetal, who lived on Lamotrek in Micronesia until he was 14, recalled in a video posted online by the Air Force, how kids raced to get to the bundles.

“Whoever gets to the box first gets to get the parachutes,” he said, explaining they made excellent mosquito nets. “Our priority mission was to try and get to the box as quickly as we can and just cut a string off the parachute, then it would be ours.”

Raigetal said kids would see toys they wanted in the boxes but knew better than to fight over them.

“We have elders who know how to divide up those gifts, so if you’re lucky you get to get what you want,” he said. “I was always excited for Christmas droppings.”

The supplies air-dropped to the islanders are collected throughout the year by the Christmas Drop Organization, a nonprofit based in Guam, and with the support of local businesses and community organizations.

cook.leon@stripes.com

Twitter: @LeonCook12

Volunteers place supplies into bundles during the 66th Operation Christmas Drop bundle build at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Dec. 9, 2017.
DAVID OWSIANKA/U.S. AIR FORCE

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