Operation Christmas Drop is not entirely canceled, according to the organization overseeing the fundraising efforts and logistics of the program.
In a message posted via social media, according to Operation Christmas Drop Organization, while the FSM Government had requested no bundles this year, they will be working with the FSM Consulate Office on Guam to donate food, clothing, and toys to the many FSM citizens stranded here on Guam.
The organization said Operation Christmas Drop has not missed a year since its inception in 1952, and this year is no different.
“Starting this weekend USAF and Japanese Air Self Defense Force C-130s will be dropping 60 plus boxes of tools/fishing gear/sporting goods, toys, school books, and food across the Republic of Palau Island chain from Tobi to Kayangel,” the organization posted.
Meanwhile, FSM officials said that while canceling Operation Christmas Drop this year had been a difficult decision for the national government, it was based on a unified decision by the state governments.
In an interview with PNC, Richard Clark, the FSM President’s Public Information Officer/Press Secretary, said the national government had to make that decision after the state governments raised concerns over the possible introduction of COVID-19 in their remote and vulnerable communities as a result of the operation.
The FSM is one of the few countries or jurisdictions without a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Clark said that the Yap State Government first raised this concern in a letter sent to the FSM National Government on Nov. 23.
In the letter, Yap State Governor Henry Falan stated the request of the Yap State Department of Health and Yap’s Council of Traditional Chiefs from the remote outer islands for the cancellation of Operation Christmas Drop.
“Upon receipt of the letter, the FSM National Government began a discussion on how we may be able to implement Operation Christmas Drop in a safe and successful manner,” Clark said.
He added that “it also became clear and necessary for the National Government to formally engage with the other state governments to determine their stance and finally decide on whether we should move forward or cancel.
Clark said the national government received communications from the other state governments requesting the cancelation of the program this year.
He said before making the final decision, the national government explored various options, such as having the gifts delivered to the main airports.
But in the end — the national and state officials were unable to come to a consensus on what option to adopt and it became increasingly clear that a national position would have to be issued soon, according to Clark.
“The FSM National Government has the full trust and confidence in the US Armed Forces in carrying out Operation Christmas Drop in the same manner…but since the state governments have requested cancellation due to the pandemic…the FSM National Government has formally requested the cancellation of Operation Christmas Drop,” Clark said.
He added: “The FSM appreciates very much its friends and partners in the U.S. recognizes the hard work and dedication in making Operation Christmas Drop as safe and effective as it can be and we are genuinely sorry that it is unable to occur this year and we look forward and very much hope that we would be able to occur next year.”
Meanwhile, the US Air Force released a statement in response:
“We support local governance in response to mitigation policies each island/country may have. As the host wing to this operation, it is not Andersen AFB’s intention to require participation from any one island in the FSM. If the FSM chooses to make the call to withdraw participation, they are able to do so. Operation Christmas Drop is still scheduled and the participating islands or nations will receive drops,” said Capt. Katie M. Mueller, USAF Chief of 36th Wing Public Affairs
Mueller added that they will remain flexible and adapt to any changes to meet mission requirements while continuing to adhere to COVID mitigation efforts.
According to the organization’s website, Operation Christmas Drop is a Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) event which includes 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.