Alaska Guard Celebrates 50th Year of Operation Santa Claus

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2006 - The Alaska National Guard will join Santa and Mrs. Claus tomorrow as they visit St. Mary's, Alaska, to commemorate the 50th anniversary flight of Operation Santa Claus.

About 100 Army and Air National Guard members and other volunteers will fly to the remote village in two Air Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft to deliver toys, clothing, books, school supplies, water and holiday spirit to about 350 children, Kalei Brooks from Alaska's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs told American Forces Press Service.

In addition, a representative of Tastee-Freez will bring ice cream sundaes for as many as 800 people, she said.

The Alaska National Guard has conducted Operation Santa Claus since 1956 to bring holiday cheer to children and families in remote villages across the state, Brooks said.

That year, spring floods devastated the fishing season, and a drought wiped out much of the wildlife hunters and trappers would normally have gathered. Nuns at a mission in St. Mary's worried that as they used all the money they had to ship in food for their orphanage, nothing would be left to buy gifts for the children.

A letter from one of the nuns that found its way to the Alaska Air National Guard's 144th Airlift Squadron in Anchorage gave birth to the first Operation Santa Claus.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Craig E. Campbell, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, expressed excitement in celebrating the fifth decade of the effort. "This is our 50th anniversary year for Operation Santa Claus," he said. "We're headed back to St. Mary's where it all began, and we're visiting friends in other parts of Alaska as well. It's going to be a great lot of fun and festivity to get things under way."

The Alaska National Guard and its elves kicked off this year's Operation Santa Claus Nov. 1 when they visited Emmonak. "That went really well," Brooks said. "The community was really receptive."

By the month's end, they will wrap up a schedule of stops in St. Mary's, Nenana/Anderson, Galena, Little Diomede, Chalkyitsik, Hooper Bay and several communities throughout southeastern Alaska.

Brooks, who is taking part in the effort for the third consecutive year, said it's extremely gratifying to bring the holiday spirit to villagers who might otherwise never see a Santa Claus or receive a gift.

"It's really exciting to go into some of these smaller villages that might not otherwise see a Santa," she said. "It's great to see all the kids and elders get genuinely excited and be extremely grateful and know that you are able to help bring some happiness and joy into the lives of these villagers."

The Operation Santa Claus elves collect donations year-round to ensure they have a steady supply of gifts to share, Brooks said. Even gifts as simply as fresh fruit, a highly valued commodity in rural parts of Alaska, are welcomed with open arms. "They love it," she said.

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