Joe Kunzler from Simple Flying – Reports
Operation Christmas Drop ends this year with six C-130Js of four nations providing aid all around Oceania together. “Elephant walk” is a mass launch of aircraft used by the US Air Force and other militaries to demonstrate their readiness for missions.
Operation Christmas Drop is an annual mission that delivers aid to Micronesian islands and promotes goodwill. The joint airdrops in the Pacific foster collaboration and build community among participating nations while ensuring freedom of movement.
A multinational formation of six Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules came together at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base, taxied together, and then lifted off to deliver aid to Micronesian islands. This “elephant walk” was part of Operation Christmas Drop 2023.
An “elephant walk” is a phrase intended to describe a mass launch of aircraft. Elephant walks are a regular occurrence for the US Air Force and are used worldwide to show the ability to quickly and safely prepare aircraft for missions. Below is a US Air Force example from 2020:
As per above, sometimes support aircraft and fighters launch together, sometimes, it’s all transports or all fighters that participate in an elephant walk. Nonetheless, the show of force is accomplished.
Operation Christmas Drop (OCD) is intended to be a mission of goodwill between great Pacific powers like the United States and Micronesia. The efforts started in 1952 and provide annual airdrop training while delivering donations to Micronesian neighbors. Items dropped each Operation: Christmas Drop include construction materials, clothes, fishing nets, medicine, rice, and more good stuff. The effort is intended to create a win-win scenario.
Positive impact all around
As this year’s Operation Christmas Drop mission commander, US Air Force Maj. Zach “Badger” Overbey shared in a US Air Force 374th Airlift Wing statement, “Operationally, my favorite part is seeing everyone’s faces when they come back after doing their first real drop. They see the aid they’re giving the islanders and the difference they’re making.”
Others felt the same way. As the Japanese Air Self-Defense Forces (JASDF) lead for the exercise, JASDF Lt. Col. Shinya Takasaka shared in the same statement, “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.”
Lt. Col. Takasaka also added that the exercise is certainly “Contributing to the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Considering the People’s Republic of China’s expansionist desires creating tension in the Pacific – and the expressed desire of most Pacific powers to maintain freedom of movement throughout the Indo-Pacific – having joint exercises with a humanitarian element is a means of collaborative defense. But for the recipients of the airdrops, as per a December 10 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs statement, as Tiffany Kasiano, Angaur Elementary School principal shared,
“We understand how much work it takes to [make Christmas Drop happen]. They have to fundraise, solicit donations, and organize people to prepare the boxes. I know it’s a lot of work. … Thank you so much. It really makes the students and the people on this island happy; it’s an event that we all look forward to every year.”
The annual multinational airdrops around Oceana – this year by the US Air Force, Japan, South Korea, and Canada – build both community and interoperability around the Pacific. As Republic of Korea Air Force Major Sungwoo Park, 251st Airlift Squadron C-130H instructor pilot, explains,
“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. 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.”
It’s also worth noting that Netflix produced a romantic comedy based on the annual exercise, also called “Operation Christmas Drop.” The romantic comedy is based on a Congressional aide being wooed by an Air Force pilot to come around to support Andersen AFB’s continued existence.