Guam’s 734th Air Mobility Squadron helps ‘Santa’
By Jerry Bynum, 624th Regional Support Group
/ Published December 20, 2018
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- The 734th Air Mobility Squadron at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam was the center of “Santa’s” operations for two weeks in December during Operation Christmas Drop, which the world’s longest running airdrop mission.
The trilateral training event, which includes the Japanese Air Self Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force, focused on low-cost, low-altitude airdrop tactics and procedures over unsurveyed drop zones, and provided nearly 25 tons of donated gifts and critical supplies to 56 Micronesian islands.
“So we got a call from the ‘North Pole’ asking for goods for the children and those who live on the islands, and Operation Christmas Drop was here to answer the call,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Aubrey Lugo, 734th AMS air transportation specialist and this year’s president for the Operation Christmas Drop organization.
Ever since 1952, those living on the remote islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau receive bundles filled with donated rice, clothing, fishing supplies, toys, shoes, tools and other critical items as part of the training mission.
Volunteers created donation drop-off boxes and raise money from local businesses and citizens in Guam for months leading up to the event. Volunteers including U.S. servicemembers, ally forces, community groups and families assisted with packing the donated goods into airdrop bundles.
“This is an outstanding opportunity for [everyone] to get involved with their community,” said Lugo. “It’s that whole ‘service-before-self’ idea … to show our community how we’re involved and how important it is to help [our] fellow man.”
Along with volunteer involvement for Operation Christmas Drop, U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 734th AMS played a critical role in planning and coordinating the logistical aspect of the operation. The squadron provided fixed and deployed maintenance, aerial port and command and control support for all aircraft supporting the operation.
“Our squadron has the unique ability to contribute,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kyle Young, a special planning supervisor with the 734th AMS. “To support something like this really brings purpose to what we do every day. Being able to load a plane and know exactly where that cargo is going, and who it’s benefiting is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.”
The 734th AMS provided the infrastructure, and worked together with the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 44th Aerial Port Squadron to execute the day-to-day operation requirements for preparing and loading airdrop bundles for Operation Christmas Drop. The effort included sorting donations, preparing bundle boxes and loading bundles onto aircraft for the airdrop missions.
“From a total-force perspective, [Operation Christmas Drop] gives the active-duty component and the reserve the chance to work together,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John Gordy II, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. “Building relationships matters. The things we do [together] everyday builds that capacity and capability anytime we might need it in the future.”
The 734th AMS along with reservist ensured the airdrop bundles were ready for rigging. Bundles were secured for airdrop and equipped with parachutes by riggers from the 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The process gave Airmen a chance to work with different services, U.S. allies and international partners.
“It’s a perfect opportunity to bring the full team capacity together, whether it’s active duty or reserve, or our trilateral partners,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Otis Jones, 374th AW commander. “We bring different partners together to share in our tactics, techniques, and procedures and practice how we do humanitarian airdrops. It feels great to see our Airmen share ideas, and to know they have the confidence to execute this mission.”
The bundles were loaded onto U.S. Air Force, Japanese Air Self Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft. Airdrops were performed Dec. 9-15, and impacted about 20,000 people covering 1.8 million square nautical miles of operating area.
“Being from Guam and being able to participate with this effort really means a lot to me,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Joseph Alviedo, an air transportation specialist with the 734th AMS. “There’s a lot of pride knowing we’re helping our community. It’s humbling to be part of something that’s going to impact so many people.”
Operation Christmas Drop helped improve readiness for every aspect of the airdrop mission from aerial port operations to execution of the flying mission. The 734th AMS and 44th APS receive hands-on aerial port operations experience, and the 374th AW maintainers, loadmasters and aircrews along with trilateral partners maintain and develop combat readiness through sustainable aircraft generation and recovery.
“Operation Christmas Drop better prepares us for when we have a disaster relief response,” said Young. “It makes us better at our job, and prepares us for anything in the future.”
In addition to helping “Santa” make all of his deliveries, the operation enhances humanitarian assistance and disaster relief crisis response capabilities between three nations and lays the foundation for regional cooperation expansion during real-world contingencies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.