Operation Christmas Drop 2023 ends with Allied elephant walk, formation flight over the Pacific

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Taylor Altier
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Herculean ‘elephants’ on parade took to the Andersen Air Force Base flightline in Guam, Dec. 9, showcasing a thundering six-ship C-130 elephant walk that not only underscored multinational readiness but also marked a significant moment in Operation Christmas Drop 2023.

The impressive procession featured three U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from the 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron who were joined by counterparts from around the globe. A Royal Canadian Air Force C-130J assigned to the 436th Transport Squadron, a Japan Air Self-Defense Force C-130H Hercules from the 401st Tactical Airlift Squadron, and a Republic of Korea Air Force C-130H from the 251st Airlift Squadron, proudly represented their respective nations in this joint display of strength and solidarity.

The cargo planes marched down the runway in unison, setting the stage for a historic event — the first multinational interfly in the history of Operation Christmas Drop. Following the elephant walk, an aircraft and crew from each participating nation took to the skies, symbolizing the successful interoperability achieved through OCD and honoring the dedicated crews from the USAF, RCAF, JASDF, and ROKAF.

“There's a saying, 'If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Like this proverb, OCD, an operation where nations in the Pacific region come together to contribute to training, is all the more worthwhile in a sense that every participant has one mind and one goal, practicing love of humankind,” said ROKAF Maj. Sungwoo Park, 251st Airlift Squadron C-130H instructor pilot. “I hope OCD develops and expands even further to the point that more nations and people can join the operations. As you know, happiness grows when you share with others.”

The interfly also represented the culmination of a tremendous collective effort. Over six days, these crews delivered 210 bundles of humanitarian aid to 58 islands, reaching more than 42 thousand remote Micronesian islanders across an astonishing 1.8 million square miles.

“Operationally, my favorite part is seeing everyone’s faces when they come back after doing their first real drop,” said Maj. Zach “Badger” Overbey, U.S. Air Force OCD mission commander and pilot. “They see the aid they’re giving the islanders and the difference they’re making.”

JASDF Lt. Col. Shinya Takasaka, OCD 23 Japan lead, echoed Overbey’s sentiment, emphasizing the meaningful impact of the mission.

“When we flew over Palau, we saw a lot of people waving our Japanese flag. I was able to feel firsthand how much people had been waiting for us, and it was a very meaningful mission for me, both as a pilot and as a squad leader. ”

The operation also serves as an important multilateral joint training exercise to improve the individual and united Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Response capabilities of each participating nation.

Takasaka expressed optimism about the future outcomes, stating, “I believe that through OCD 23, we will be able to further improve the interoperability of Japan and the United States and strengthen multilateral cooperation as well as contributing to the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

This year’s OCD witnessed another historic first as Canada joined the mission, providing vital airlift support as well as personnel for rigging bundles of aid and conducting maintenance on their aircraft.

“It was so rewarding to see the islanders waving up at us and running to get their presents,” said RCAF Capt. Isaac Bates, 436th Squadron pilot. “The work that we have put in has come together nicely and we integrated well. We’re looking forward to bringing this experience back to Canada and hopefully come back next year with new people to share in this amazing experience.”

In a remarkable display of international collaboration, all four flying nations, with additional ground support from the Royal Australian Air Force and Philippine Air Force, came together to make a profound difference in the lives of those in need.