Yokota airmen pay tribute to lost Osprey crew during Operation Christmas Drop
Stars and Stripes December 3, 2023
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam — An image of a CV-22 Osprey with angel wings decorates a bundle of presents that airmen from Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo will parachute to villagers on a remote Pacific island during this month’s Operation Christmas Drop.
The drawing, along with a picture of a Dust Devil — the symbol of Yokota’s 21st Special Operations Squadron — and an Osprey callsign — “GUNDAM 22” — pay tribute to eight airmen lost when their Yokota-based tiltrotor aircraft fell into the sea off southwestern Japan on Wednesday.
Searchers have, so far, recovered the body of Staff Sgt. Jacob “Jake” Galliher, 24, of Pittsfield, Mass., but seven others remain DUSTWUN — duty status-whereabouts unknown.
“They were on my mind,” Chief Master Sgt. Chris Reyes, a member of Yokota’s 374th Airlift Wing, said shortly after drawing the tribute in a hangar on Andersen Saturday.
Yokota’s commander, Col. Andrew Roddan, traveled to Guam on Wednesday to participate in the airdrops but returned to Japan when the Osprey went missing, Christmas Drop mission commander Maj. Zach “Badger” Overbey said in the hangar Saturday.
“The crew and families are 100% in our hearts and minds right now,” he said. “We are trying to think about them and remember them. We are sending our condolences here while we execute this critical mission.”
Airmen planned to decorate another bundle in tribute to Senior Airman Jeremy Jutba, who died of heart failure during the Christmas Drop mission in 2015, Overbey said.
The grief accompanying the loss of the Yokota airmen contrasted with the festive atmosphere in the hangar, where troops, families and members of the Guam community decorated and filled 210 bundles that will be dropped to 58 islands dotted across 1.8 million square miles of ocean between Monday and Friday.
Operation Christmas Drop — the Defense Department’s longest-running humanitarian aid mission — airdrops essential supplies to far-flung isolated islands in the Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau.
Locals performed a hula dance while music blared through the hangar and people lined up to receive toys and supplies to place inside the bundles. South Korean airmen put colorful stickers on their boxes alongside Japanese counterparts who dressed as sushi chefs while they painted theirs.
Volunteers who help decorate and fill the bundles get as much out of Christmas Drop as the villagers who receive them, said Senior Airman Ken Bocago, who was among dozens of members of Andersen’s 44th Aerial Port Squadron working in the hangar.
“You are happy to help someone,” he said. “Seeing the smiles on people’s faces is really something.”