By THE 515th AIR MOBILITY OPERATIONS WING PUBLIC AFFAIRS
For the 68th straight year, the Air Force conducted its longest-running training operation and the world’s longest-running humanitarian airlift: Operation Christmas Drop (OCD). Since 1987, for all but 3 years the program has been led by the 734th Air Mobility Squadron (AMS), Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
In 1952, the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, flying over the Micronesian island of Kapingamarangi, saw islanders waving to them, and the crew gathered supplies they had lying around the plane, tied them to a parachute, and circled around to drop the cargo. In 2019, a record- breaking 176 boxes carrying approximately 82,000 pounds of goods were delivered to 55 islands by air. Overall, an estimated 1.2 million pounds of goods have been delivered to the Micronesian islands, including non-perishable food, hand tools, fishing supplies, school supplies, clothes, hygiene products, coolers, toys, and first aid kits.
During the multi-week operation, volunteers came together from the 734 AMS, 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing, 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, and the 44th Aerial Port Squadron, along with partner nations, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. The volunteers participated in box buildups, in which they secured the donations to a pallet before parachutes were added in preparation for the drop. The operation also gives troops the chance to practice humanitarian relief operations, and it gives pilots of the C-130J Super Hercules, of both local and foreign partner air crews, the avenue to practice low- altitude flight training and cargo drops.
This year’s president, SMSgt Brandon Peterson, 734 AMS Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent, was tied to OCD well before he knew he would be the president. In the mid-1980s his grandparents were assigned to Andersen AFB, and his grandfather, retired SMSgt Gary Schersching, volunteered his time to the effort. When the opportunity arose for a president to volunteer this year, Peterson jumped at the chance.
“I am proud to have had the opportunity to follow in my family’s legacy and carry the OCD torch, especially with such a record-breaking year,” said Peterson. “I am excited to see what the 70th anniversary will bring.”
Two years from now will be OCD’s 70th anniversary, but that is not the only reason Peterson is excited to see what it will bring. This year, Netflix was on the island filming an Operation Christmas Drop movie that is scheduled to be released next fall to help with the fundraising efforts that coincide with the 2021 OCD 70th anniversary. One of the biggest roles as president is to ensure the success of the next year’s operation, as all fundraising is done to support the following year’s drop. Peterson says he hopes to see another record-breaking year in 2020 to continue helping some of the most remote people and places on the planet.
OCD became a private organization in 1982 that relies solely on volunteers for logistical support. It has its own constitution and by-laws that operate in accordance with Air Force instructions and is governed by Department of Defense joint ethics regulations.
Peterson had to continue his regular work duties as superintendent, leaving work for OCD to be done primarily in the evenings and on weekends. He said he spent many restless nights creating and going over checklists that needed to get done from one event to another.
“The team and I would put in many hours after work and on the weekends,” said Peterson. “Whether it was for the movie, sorting the monthly donations, working a fundraiser, or coordinating something else … it was a busy year!”
When asked if there was anything else he would like to add, Peterson did not hesitate for a second to mention the people around him.
“I really could not have done any of this without my team,” exclaimed Peterson. “There are three specific individuals that I would like to highlight: TSgt Michael Duncan, the Vice President; MSgt John Paul Diaz, Solicitations Lead; and TSgt Dean Atwa, the Facility Manager. Without the hard work and dedication of those three, I would have been up the creek. They did the work; I was just the face.”
Operation Christmas Drop was a huge success, and with the release of a Netflix movie next fall, expectations are high for years to come that the event is going to continue to grow and break records.