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Pacific News Minute: Australia, Japan join "Operation Christmas Drop"


For the 64th year in a row - US Air Force crews dropped toys, fishing gear, canned goods and a new addition this year - soccer balls to thousands of people on isolated Pacific Islands.  Also new: Japan and Australia sent planes to participate in "Operation Christmas Drop." Details from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

In December, 1952, the crew of a B-29 on a weather flight noticed people waving from Kapinga -Marangi atoll in Micronesia.  While the plane circled back, the crew gathered a few items into a container and attached a parachute.  Stars and Stripes quoted a witness: "We saw these things come out of the back of the airplane and I was yelling, "There are toys coming down."

In the 63 years since, "Operation Christmas Drop" has expanded to cover 56 islands in Micronesia, the Mariana Islands and Palau.  The program runs out of Anderson Air Force base on Guam, where volunteers assemble the packages to be loaded aboard C-130 Hercules from the 374th Airlift Wing from Yokota Airbase, Japan.  Other units include the 36th Airlift Wing from Guam and the 734th Air Mobility Squadron of the 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing from Joint base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

This year, for the first time, Japan and Australia sent C-130s to participate in what the military calls Low-Cost, Low-Altitude airdrops over unsecured drop zones.  A feel-good mission for sure, but also training for operations following the natural disasters all too common in the Pacific.  The three air forces also participate in the annual Cope North exercise on Guam and Red Flag drills in Alaska and this year, a lot of kids on remote islands got soccer balls. 

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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