A U.S. Air Force chaplain from Camdenton serving in Alaska is spending this week in the Tropics, assisting with a massive humanitarian operation.
Father Nicholas Reid traveled to Guam to take part in the U.S. Air Force’s 68th annual Operation Christmas Drop, a mission to deliver donated food, supplies, educational materials and Christmas toys to people in some of the world’s most isolated places.
“Communicating with three other nations that don’t speak the same language to drop 300-pound crates on 50-meter targets across an island chain that spans a space as wide as the continental United States is no small task, but that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” stated Fr. Reid, a priest of the Jefferson City diocese who is serving as a chaplain at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska.
Fr. Reid was summoned to invoke God’s blessing for this year’s Operation Christmas Drop during the Dec. 9 kickoff ceremony at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
“What might seem to some as just a bundle of supplies attached to a parachute is to others the best human nature has to offer,” he stated.
The priest called to mind a phrase from a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “It is in giving that we receive.”
“Indeed,” said Fr. Reid, “how often it is the case that we are encouraged when we help others.”
He said that in a world fraught with conflict and division, this Operation affords an opportunity to bring together Air Crew and assistance from across the region to help some 20,000 people.
He prayed: “In Your mercy, Lord, may our crews be safe in the air, our drops on target on the ground, and our shared humanity strengthened near and far.”
“Love from above”
Operation Christmas Drop is the U.S. Defense Department’s longest-running humanitarian airlift operation.
It is a cooperative venture among several U.S. Air Force and joint installations in the Southeast Pacific.
According to the Andersen Air Force Base website, the tradition began during the Christmas season in 1952 when a B-29 Superfortress aircrew saw islanders waving at them from the island of Kapingamarangi, 3,500 miles southwest of Hawaii.
In the spirit of Christmas, the aircrew dropped a bundle of supplies attached to a parachute to the islanders below, giving the operation its name.
Today, airdrop operations include more than 50 islands throughout the Pacific — including the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of Palau.
“These islands are some of the most remote locations on the globe spanning a distance nearly as broad as the continental United States,” the Anderson Air Force Base website states.
Volunteers from a private, nonprofit organization raise money and gather the materials for the drop from private donors, charitable organizations and the University of Guam.
A week before the mission unfolds, volunteer Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, civilians, contractors and families assist in picking up and sorting the donations.
Riggers from Yokota AFB and Andersen volunteers build dozens of boxes to hold the sorted materials — mostly school supplies, clothing, rice, fishing equipment and toys.
The boxes are attached to parachutes and loaded aboard massive Air Force cargo planes.
Military personnel transport the boxes to the various island locales and drop them while flying at low altitude.
This provides valuable experience for those who participate. Low-altitude airdrops are a low-cost way to deliver essential items to isolated places. This makes them a crucial part of the United States military’s emergency response to natural disasters throughout the world.
“An amazing reflection”
Fr. Reid said he’s grateful to be able to assist “even just a little” in Operation Christmas drop.
“One of the things I really enjoy about the Air Force is the opportunity to impact lives across the globe,” he said.
He noted that young Air Force members from throughout the United States take part in the operation, supporting over 56 micro islands in the South Pacific with clothing, canned goods and supplies.
“It is an amazing reflection on and credit to the kind of young men and women who are joining the military,” he said.
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