International observers in multinational harmony at Operation Christmas Drop 2023

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Taylor Altier
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Operation Christmas Drop 2023 has officially transcended its annual mission of spreading Christmas joy through humanitarian airdrop. What began as a humble charitable initiative has evolved into a multinational effort, symbolizing the commitment to regional security and humanitarian cooperation.

Under the leadership of the USAF 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, OCD 23 is poised to be a milestone in the mission’s history as a fleet of C-130J Super Hercules and C-130H Hercules aircraft, along with crews from the U.S., Japan, the Republic of Korea, and for the first time ever, Canada, come together to make a difference in the lives of those in need.

Established in 1952, Operation Christmas Drop has evolved into the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian and disaster relief mission, benefiting over 20 thousand islanders on 58 islands throughout the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau.

Personnel from Australia and the Philippines also contributed to ground operations like aircraft maintenance and airdrop bundle rigging, demonstrating the comprehensive collaboration that defines OCD. However, what truly distinguishes this year’s mission is the presence of international observers from Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Nepal, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

“It was really a great experience here, I didn’t expect it to be such a huge event,” said Nepali Army Col. Bikram Gurung, Special Forces. “The Christmas Drop main missions were amazing–just out of my imagination. The C-130 low-flying and airdrops landing at islands across Micronesia was my favorite experience. I would like to give my thanks to the U.S. Air Force for the opportunity to come here, it felt like home.”

The International Observer Program at OCD 23 serves as a unique platform for nations around the world to witness the seamless integration of forces in a complex humanitarian setting, according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Billy Huffman, Pacific Air Forces A5I branch chief, international affairs strategy and plans.

“This program is unique opportunity to bring countries together to learn, collaborate, and participate in humanitarian relief,” Huffman said. “This year, they also flew with the U.S. Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force. The way Christmas Drop has expanded over the years brings attention to the critical importance of interoperability in the Indo-Pacific. Further international collaboration can only make us a stronger, more skilled, and more united team in the region.”

This program not only highlights the operational excellence of the USAF and its partner nations but also fosters a deeper understanding of the challenges and triumphs inherent in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations.

“Being a part of the OCD 23 International Observer Program has been an incredible experience,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. David Riggins, 36th Tactical Advisory Squadron air advisor. “We have forged relationships and strengthened interoperability with each of the participating nations. This is the essence of being an air advisor, and what better time than Operation Christmas Drop?”

Through the international cooperation and the enduring commitment of the U.S. Air Force and its allies and partners, OCD has become a testament to the power of collaboration and shared humanity.

“This was an amazing opportunity to see the collaboration between international partners and a good look at what the future of the Pacific will look like as we protect our world as a united team,” said Royal Netherlands Air Force Capt. Niels Van Bergen, Air Mobility Command. “Thank you so much for the opportunity, I hope we can help with cargo, personnel, or flights in the future, and I hope Operation Christmas Drop continues for decades to come.”