Have you heard the buzz about Netflix’s holiday romantic comedy, Operation Christmas Drop? If you’re here on Guam, maybe you caught a glimpse of the cast and crew as they filmed the movie on location. (They even got permission to film on base at Andersen!)
DeWitt Guam has been a proud partner of the real-life Operation Christmas Drop since 1995. Given our experience with the program, you might wonder what we thought about the movie. Our CEO, John Burrows, watched the film and thought that “it certainly was a great film to highlight both some of the things that can happen out there in the Pacific and the wonderful things our military does for our environment and communities.”
(By the way, John has actually done a ride-along on an Operation Christmas Drop mission. More on that below!)
For a sneak peek of the film, check out the trailer below:
Is Operation Christmas Drop Real?
With the movie’s release, many people wondered if Operation Christmas Drop was just a piece of Hollywood fiction. In fact, it’s the Department of Defense’s longest-running humanitarian airlift operation. If you’ve been one of Guam’s many volunteers, donors, or participants over the years, you already know just how vital this program has become to many of the small islands in the Pacific.
Throughout the month of December, Operation Christmas Drop airlifts supplies such as food, medicine, books, clothes, toys, and gifts to 50+ remote Pacific islands. To give you an idea of the magnitude of these efforts, check out these numbers:
- In 2017, Operation Christmas Drop served 57 islands, dropping 120 boxes and 47,000 pounds of donations.
- In 2018, Operation Christmas Drop served 56 islands, dropping 147 boxes and 62,000 pounds of donations.
- In 2019, Operation Christmas drop served 56 islands, dropping 176 boxes and 80,400 pounds of donations.
The program is a partnership between the 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan; the 36th Wing, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; 734th Air Mobility Squadron, Andersen AFB of the 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; the University of Guam; and the Operation Christmas Drop private organization which leads the fundraising and donations for the operation.
Residents and businesses all over Guam donate to the effort, and we’re honored to join them in supporting Operation Christmas Drop each year. Since we’re a moving and logistics company, it’s only natural that we should help with the packaging of the dropped donations. Each year, we special-order 17 cube and 20 cube triwall cardboard boxes, which we donate to the effort.
Obviously, strength is important for these boxes, since they get packed to the brim and pushed out of a C-130 with a parachute attached! The boxes are constructed with three layers of corrugated cardboard, so they can offer as much protection as a wooden crate. In the words of our Vice President and General Manager, Victor Valenzuela, “They’re the best boxes to drop off an aircraft.”
Victor went on to say that he and the rest of the team at DeWitt Guam are “honored to be a part of this organization year after year. It’s part of our corporate responsibility, and DeWitt Guam loves being involved with efforts like this.”
“It’s a very worthy cause,” John Burrows added. “We do a lot of moving for the military, and we want to give back and support our armed services whenever we can.”
In fact, John is so committed to this organization that he joined the plane crew for a ride-along one year. We say “committed” because these runs out to remote islands can mean a 12-16 hour roundtrip journey in a military cargo plane with very few amenities.
We were curious to discover more about how the real-life Operation Christmas Drop operates, so we asked John to share his experience.
The Real Operation Christmas Drop: What Is It Really Like?
How did you get the opportunity for this ride-along?
John: “Early on in DeWitt Guam’s involvement, I was invited to go along on one of the runs for Operation Christmas Drop. I was fortunate enough that the one I was asked to join was only an eight-hour roundtrip flight.”
What was it like out there, flying over miles of open ocean?
John: “For a long time, you’re just flying across water, and then, all of a sudden, there’s an island. There are just hundreds of islands out there that are not represented on the maps that most of us are used to seeing.
“One of the most fascinating and eye-opening things for me was to have the privilege of seeing how these drops happen. Most of the islands are in an atoll shape—a U-shape. So, first we flew over the island so that the residents knew what’s coming. Then, we did a second pass and dropped the goods into the lagoon area inside the atoll (in the middle of the U-shape). They don’t want to drop it on the island for fear that they would hit a house—or somebody or something. Shortly after they dropped the box, someone zipped out in a small motorboat to get the delivery. It was certainly a fascinating thing to witness. Another fascinating thing to me is that they use old parachutes that are no longer usable for the servicemen and servicewomen to use, so they’re not wasting anything.”
You flew out on a C-5. What was that like?
John: “Well, the back of the plane opens up, and whoever’s in back pushing the cargo out is tethered up so they don’t fall out, but usually they’re dressed up in a Santa suit, which is kind of fun to see.
“It was the first time I’d been on a military cargo plane like that. As you get ready to take off, the moisture that’s coming out of the vents feels like—and looks like—the plane’s on fire as you take off. I sat on a on a bench seat on the inside wall of the plane for eight hours, and they give you a little box lunch that acts as your meal service for the flight. I think the smallest island we dropped to had about sixty people on it and I think the largest had a population of about 500. It was a fascinating experience, and I feel fortunate to have been able to witness it all first-hand.”
The Effect of COVID-19 on Operation Christmas Drop
As with many things, COVID-19 has impacted the way the operation is running this year. The Federated States of Micronesia decided not to participate in this year’s Christmas Drop. However, the Operation Christmas Drop team decided to seize on this decision as an opportunity to deliver additional aid to the citizens of the island of Palau, dropping supplies to seven islands in the republic this year.
Additionally, donation items were sanitized and stored in a controlled, COVID-19 free environment for more than 24 hours before packing. Afterward, bundles were put in a sanitized location for a minimum of 72 hours after packing to ensure a safe and COVID-19 free delivery.
In other words, COVID-19 couldn’t keep this historic operation from moving forward in 2020, and the team DeWitt Guam felt privileged to be a part of it. We’re sending warm holiday wishes to all of the other donors, volunteers, participants, servicemen, and servicewomen who make this operation possible every year. We look forward to partnering with you again in 2021.
If you want to learn more about Operation Christmas Drop, check out Andersen Air Force Base’s official Operation Christmas Drop website. You might also enjoy Andersen’s article featuring several island residents who describe the impact of the operation on their lives.
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