Merry Christmas, from Ray Overbey

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Taylor Altier
In the vast expanse of the Pacific, where turquoise waters meet an endless sky, there exists a tradition that transcends borders and brings hope to remote communities. Operation Christmas Drop, an annual humanitarian mission led by Yokota Air Base, has become synonymous with spreading joy to those in need. Little known to many, the mission has been privately dedicated for the last three years in a row, to honoring a father's memory through the commitment and perseverance of its current mission commander, Maj. Zach “Badger” Overbey.

Participating in the mission for the third consecutive year as a pilot, planner, and now leader, is Badger–a remarkable individual, whose commitment to Operation Christmas Drop is deeply rooted in personal loss.

“Some of our last conversations were about his search for ways to give back and be of service,” Badger said. He wouldn’t know until later that these were the final wishes of a man who would take his own life.

Reflecting on those last lingering moments, Badger realized his dad was focused on leaving the world better than he found it in what would come to be his final days.

Ray Overbey died on October 24th, 2014, in Abilene, Texas, at a vibrant 59 years old. According to his son, Ray had the biggest heart and could talk to anyone. He would make friends everywhere he went and could golf with the best of ‘em. But most of all, he was a best friend to his son. His sudden death came as a surprise to everyone and sent shockwaves of grief through his family and community.

“This is something I want to be very open about because of the importance of mental health awareness. If we talk about it, and keep talking about it, the stigma will fade and people will get the help they need without fear.

My dad was struggling, whether or not we knew it, but he was still focusing on ways to help people. It took years to process, but now I see it as something to draw strength from.”

It was in the aftermath of this devastating event that Badger found solace and purpose in continuing his father's legacy of service through Operation Christmas Drop.

“The first year, 2021, I signed the bundles every chance I got: ‘Merry Christmas, from Ray Overbey.’ Last year, I was tasked with a deployment to Honduras after working extensively with the team to make Christmas Drop 2022 a reality, and they helped me by signing the message in my absence. For me, it’s a way to honor and continue the legacy that he wanted to leave behind.”

In honoring his father's memory, Badger is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of the profoundly human struggle of deep loss.

As the lead for Operation Christmas Drop this year, Badger has transformed the mission into far more than just a logistical operation for the entire team. For those who have witnessed his leadership firsthand, Badger and the wishes of his father have left a resounding impact on countless lives, to include over 20,000 islanders across the Pacific. Ray's spirit soars with every parachuted gift and every smile on the faces of those receiving aid.

“I see myself being a part of Christmas Drop forever in some capacity, it is the most worthwhile thing I’ve done in my career as far as giving back and it’s something I’m very proud to have ever been a part of.”