Major Dan Moss of the U.S. Air Force says he would never compare himself to Santa Claus. But it’s hard not to.
After all, he’s the Mission Commander for Operation Christmas Drop, which airdrops bundles of humanitarian supplies to impoverished islanders across the Pacific Ocean, every year at Christmastime.
The tradition started in 1952. The year before, the aircrew of a WB-29 assigned to the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron – then based in Guam – was flying a mission that took them over the tiny atoll of Kapingamarangi. Villagers hearing the plane’s engines came running out to see and started waving at the crew. In the Christmas spirit, the crew members quickly gathered up some extra supplies they had on hand, attached a parachute, and circled around to drop the bundle for the amazed islanders to receive.
Operation Christmas Drop is now the longest-running U.S. Department of Defense mission in full operation, and the longest-running humanitarian airlift in the world.
And this year, Miami High graduate Maj. Dan Moss was in charge of the entire operation.
His brother David, with evident pride, says, “To have a person out of Globe-Miami lead this multinational effort is a significant honor and should be an inspiration to students in Globe-Miami who have their sights set high.”
Maj. Moss grew up in Miami, was a Boy Scout in Troop 101, and attended the United Methodist Church. He graduated from Miami High in 2002 and went directly into the Air Force. Another Vandal, Blake Fentress, had attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and he urged Dan to do the same. Dan received a letter of recommendation from John McCain and entered the Academy in 2002. He graduated in 2006.
Today, Maj. Moss flies C-130Js with the 34th Airlift Squadron out of Yokota Air Base in Japan – where he currently lives with his wife, Sofi, also a Globe-Miami native.
As Mission Commander for Operation Christmas Drop, Maj. Moss coordinated not only the U.S. Air Force but also the air forces of Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, which also participated in the operation this year.
The mission is based at Yokota AFB, but “North Pole Operations Center” runs out of a detachment at Andersen Air Base in Guam.
This year, C-130Js flew all over the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau to visit 55 different islands over a vast span of the Pacific Ocean. If Guam had been in North Dakota, crews would have been flying as far east as Charlotte, North Carolina, and as far west as San Diego, California, to drop bundles.
The bundles weigh 400 pounds each and are called LCLA CHAD (Low Cost, Low Altitude Coastal Humanitarian Airdrop) bundles. They contain items such as medical supplies, school supplies, clothing, fishing gear, construction materials, food, and toys. All is donated by private organizations in Guam, which hold events like golf tournaments and sponsored runs to raise funds.
This year, Maj. Moss’s operation delivered 186,000 pounds of supplies to more than 20,000 people.
David Moss says, “The donations are important and impactful as most of these islands see a boat only once per year.” The islanders mostly survive by fishing and hunting.
The Air Force crews also benefit, because the mission is considered a large-scale military training operation.
One islander described what it’s like when the bundles come. He was a young boy the first time he experienced it, in the 1960s. He and his friends were so far away they thought the parachutes were toys, and they started yelling, “There are toys coming down!”
The planes were swooping so low they were making the island tremble. “The whole island was freaking out,” he said.
A pilot who flew Operation Christmas Drop missions in the 1990s said that when the planes come, “There’s lots of jumping up and down and kids running out to try and catch the chutes.”
He said the aircrews often drop the bundles in the water so they won’t fall on people. Then the islanders paddle out in canoes to retrieve them. But sometimes the bundles fall miles away from the drop zone, and villagers come across them later.
The mission has strategic value, too. It gives the U.S. Air Force the opportunity to work with the Australian, New Zealand, and Japanese air forces, as well as observers from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mongolia, and Thailand.
Maj. Moss says, “By working together, we strengthened our ability to respond to future, real-world humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations throughout the Indo-Pacific region. This multilateral crosstalk is essential to ensuring peace and stability in a very volatile region of the world.”
So if one of the things you wished for at Christmas was peace on Earth, you can thank Maj. Dan Moss and his crews, the volunteers and donors in Guam, and all the other airmen and staff of Operation Christmas Drop, who are doing their part for stability and peace.
Maj. Moss says, “I wouldn’t ever presume to have the same impact as Jolly Saint Nick.” His mission took two weeks to deliver 176 bundles to 55 islands, but, as Maj. Moss points out, Santa “does it all in one night to every location on the planet.”
Maj. Moss conceded that “Santa Claus has the key capabilities of rapid global mobility, precision engagement, and global presence down to a doctrine that far exceeds the capabilities of the USAF.”
But that doesn’t take away from the importance and generosity of Operation Christmas Drop.
Maj. Moss says, “If anybody should be considered the Santa Claus of this operation, it should be the eight aircrews of the four nations that made it happen.”
In February, Maj. Moss will be moving to Canada to become an exchange pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force. It’s a very prestigious role, and he will be the only exchange pilot in Winnipeg.
You can see video of Maj. Dan Moss and Operation Christmas Drop on Facebook – search for “KUAM News – Operation Christmas Drop.”
Patricia Sanders lived in Globe from 2004 to 2008 and at Reevis Mountain School, in the Tonto National Forest, from 2008 to 2014. She has been a writer and editor for GMT since 2015. She currently lives on Santa Maria island in the Azores.