December 14, 2017 (by SSgt. David Owsianka) - Four C-130J Super Hercules propellers create a humming sound as they power the aircraft, commonly referred to this time of year as "Santa's sleigh", down the runway to deliver bundles of goods to people living on some of the most remote islands in the world during the 66th Operation Christmas Drop at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, from December 9 through December 19, 2017.
A crew chief with the 374th AMXS turns around after marshaling C-130J #15-5817 from 36 AS prior to its takeoff for a training sortie during the 66th Operation Christmas Drop at Andersen AFB, December 14, 2017. [USAF photo by SSgt. David Owsianka]
Flying 3 C-130's thousands of miles daily does not happen without a team of professionals to keep the sleigh in the air. Airmen from the 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron work tirelessly around the clock to ensure the aircraft are always mission ready and fully capable.
Over the course of 10 days, the maintainers guarantee that the 36th Airlift Squadron crew members could effectively train alongside their Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self Defense Force) and Royal Australian Air Force partners as they performed Low-Cost Low-Altitude airdrop tactics and procedures over unsurveyed drop zones while providing critical supplies to 56 Micronesian islands.
"This is a great operation that we do here, and is one of the most rewarding things we do in the Air Force as we keep the planes flying and train as we provide supplies to the islanders," Master Sgt. Keith Schroeder, 374 AMXS production superintendent. "It was also a great experience working alongside the Koku Jieitai and Australians because we're able to exchange information and ideas to take back to our home stations."
The maintainers are split into two flights to effectively provide the necessary upkeep on the aircraft night and day. Armed with all of the necessary tools and spare parts, these Santa's helpers are able to put all of the skills and training they receive at home station to use in a simulated deployed environment. They are on the flightline prior to the plane taking off and there when it lands to inspect it, provide any repairs and ensure it is fueled for the next mission. For many of the maintainers, this mission provides a look at how their efforts directly impact mission accomplishment.
"Some of my fellow Airmen are able to see how our job here is away from our home station," said Senior Airman Austin Endsley, 374 AMXS crew chief. "It's a little different than being stationed back at Yokota; the mission has to happen here. These people won't get their packages unless we fix the plane."
Some of the common maintenance work done throughout Operation Christmas Drop include tire changes, pressurization system repairs and inspecting the aircraft's panels. All of this hard work does not go unnoticed. Many of the maintenance Airmen are offered incentive flights on Santa's sleigh to see the bundles delivered first-hand.
"I had the opportunity to sit on the flight deck as the loadmasters dropped the bundles over the islands," Endsley said. "It was amazing being able to see all of the people run out as the packages fell toward them."