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Airmen spread holiday spirit around the world

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFPN) -- Santa and his helpers -- Senior Master Sgt. Peter Tetreault and Rose San Nicolas -- push carts full of holiday donations out of the commissary here. The donated food items will be used in this year's Operation Christmas Drop, a 53-year-old tradition. C-130 Hercules aircraft from Yokota Air Base, Japan, flew here today, load up the donated gifts and "deliver" them via parachute to remote Micronesian islands. Sergeant Tetreault is with the 36th Service Squadron and Mrs. San Nicolas is the commissary store manager. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFPN) -- Santa and his helpers -- Senior Master Sgt. Peter Tetreault and Rose San Nicolas -- push carts full of holiday donations out of the commissary here. The donated food items will be used in this year's Operation Christmas Drop, a 53-year-old tradition. C-130 Hercules aircraft from Yokota Air Base, Japan, flew here today, load up the donated gifts and "deliver" them via parachute to remote Micronesian islands. Sergeant Tetreault is with the 36th Service Squadron and Mrs. San Nicolas is the commissary store manager. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

ARCTIC VILLAGE, Alaska (AFPN) -- Kyla Nikolai (left) and her brother, Kobi unwrap a present from Santa. Santa traveled with the 517th Airlift Squadron to Artic Village, Alaska, Dec. 13. The children and community gathered in the village town hall Dec. 13 to share their culture with the visiting Airman and their families. The 517th Airlift Squadron came to the village's aid in 1967 and has made an annual visit ever since. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Garrett Hothan)

ARCTIC VILLAGE, Alaska (AFPN) -- Kyla Nikolai (left) and her brother, Kobi unwrap a present from Santa. Santa traveled with the 517th Airlift Squadron to Artic Village, Alaska, Dec. 13. The children and community gathered in the village town hall Dec. 13 to share their culture with the visiting Airman and their families. The 517th Airlift Squadron came to the village's aid in 1967 and has made an annual visit ever since. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Garrett Hothan)

MANTA AIR BASE, Ecuador (AFPN) -- Santa Claus listens to children sing after they received toys at an elementary school. Airmen will be giving 1,800 toys to children at schools, hospitals and other organizations for the holidays. (U.S. Air Force photo)

MANTA AIR BASE, Ecuador (AFPN) -- Santa Claus listens to children sing after they received toys at an elementary school. Airmen will be giving 1,800 toys to children at schools, hospitals and other organizations for the holidays. (U.S. Air Force photo)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AFPN) -- Although many Airmen around the world use the holidays as a time for leave, to visit family members, or feast with friends, there are still many who use it as a time to share -- share themselves.

The Air Force mission does not stop because of the holidays, in fact, some of the missions are in support of the holiday season.

For instance, Pacific islanders see Santa delivering gifts in a C-130 Hercules, not a sleigh and reindeer. Andersen Air Force Base’s Operation Christmas Drop in Guam uses C-130s to fly donated gifts over remote Micronesian Islands and drop the 400-pound boxes from the plane, via parachute, to the waiting islanders below. Many of the islands are hundreds of miles away from the nearest airport, and most see ships only two or three times a year. The fish nets, clothing, medical supplies and Christmas gifts are a welcomed sight. The tradition dates back 53 years.

In its 50th year, North American Air Defense Command uses satellites, radar and jet fighters to track Santa. On Christmas Eve, many volunteers at Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., will spend part of their holiday with their families and friends at NORAD's Santa Tracking Operations Center answering phones and providing Santa updates to thousands of children. Last year, volunteers answered nearly 55,000 phone calls and 35,000 e-mails from children worldwide. The NORAD Tracks Santa Web site also had 912 million hits from 181 countries.

But not all holidays activities are as high profile as Christmas Drop and Santa tracking. Many demonstrate the Air Force’s core competency of Integrity. Some say integrity is something one does when others are not looking, something that may or may not go on a performance report, something that just plain warms a heart.

These types of activities are happening every minute around the world during this holiday season. Airmen are sharing -- and the gifts are themselves. Here are a few examples:

Helping man and beast
An Airman stationed at Duke Field, Fla., does not just help children, he also helps animals.

Tech. Sgt. Eric Roche, who works in the 919th Special Operations Wing command post, teamed with others and collected 64 coats for local children as part of the Coats for Kids drive.

“This year I decided to just put out a box and ask people to drop off a coat,” Sergeant Roche said. “That was pretty effortless. It just takes someone to do it.”

Last year, Sergeant Roche collected several hundred canned goods and delivered them to a food bank. In 2000, he collected 220 pounds of dog and cat food for the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society.

Pilots for kids
Another Airman making a difference this holiday season is Maj. Rodney Biggs, a KC-10 Extender pilot in the 78th Air Refueling Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.

In 1999, Major Bigg’s 2-year-old son, Nolan, became seriously ill and spent weeks in a hospital. During that time, the major and his wife visited their son a number of times and each time were stunned by the amount of gravely sick children there. After their son recovered, they wanted to find a way to help children less fortunate.

That is when he started a chapter of “Pilots for Kids,” an international organization dedicated to helping hospitalized children. The organization visits children’s hospitals during the holidays and takes toys to each child.

“It is really a neat experience to put a smile on a kid's face who is in the hospital and even better since they are bummed to be in the hospital during the holidays,” the major said.

For more information about Pilots for Kids, visit pilotsforkids.org.

Flying disabled children to the North Pole
Volunteers from the 934th Airlift Wing do not just dress up like Santa, they “fly” disabled children to see Santa personally at the “North Pole.”

For the past eight years, reservists in that Minnesota unit fly to Eau Claire Airport, near Eau Claire, Wis., and load disabled children and their families aboard a C-130 for what they call “Operation Santa.”

Once everyone is on board, the aircrew taxi around the flightline on an imaginary trip to the North Pole, during which time Santa, Mrs. Claus and elves set up in the airport. Once the “flight” finishes, the children return to the airport for gifts donated by the local community.

“The parents are … so grateful, some with tears in their eyes because we gave some special time to their child,” said Chief Master Sgt. Tom Foss, a loadmaster. “Some of these children pass away during the year. Some parents continue to show up for the event to say thank you, again, for the gift we gave.”

“It puts things into perspective for us who have healthy children -- for us to reflect how God has blessed us with something we sometimes take for granted,” the chief said.

Pies in the eyes
Airmen at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., raised money this year in a fundraiser that could have fit in a Three Stooges movie.

Base volunteers collected money for a week and a half before a “Pie in the Eye” fundraiser for the Marian House Soup Kitchen of Catholic Charities. Additionally, Schriever organizations regularly contribute time as volunteers to Marian House.

The event raised $950 for the people who stay in the Marian House.

“Many of the people we help are people who have to decide between electricity or food,” said Tom Corsentino, director of Marian House. “They work hard, just like you and me, but they are paid minimum wage, which doesn’t always pay the bills. We want to help people get back on their feet and know that there is a better tomorrow ahead of them.”

Santa in Manta
Airmen are not just helping people in America. Their volunteer efforts are witnessed around the world.

For instance, Santa visited Manta Air Base, Ecuador, thanks to Airmen deployed to that forward operating base. About 25 volunteers brought holiday cheer, candy and toys to hundreds of children in the nearby town of Manta recently.

Members of the unit personally have been raising funds over the past two months to purchase 1,800 toys for the children.

“Many of (us) are here without our families for the holidays so we want to share something special with the children,” said Lt. Col. Gary Gagliardi, a Manta Air Base administrator. “We feel a part of the community and these gifts come from our hearts.”

Bringing Christmas to children in Poland
What started out as a little project has grown into a small support operation for the 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron out of Wurzburg, Germany. 

When the Airmen there found out that lunch was many times the only meal for children who attended the nearby Elim Christian Center, they decided to serve a lunch of hot dogs, soda, potato chips and candy bars. They served more than twice the number of children they expected.

“Many of the Airmen who came with us were taken aback,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Dill, the squadron’s commander. “They didn’t realize there was this type of poverty so close.”

The Airmen then mended what they could of the 250-year-old building, and then prepared Christmas bags for some of the local children. The 15 girls and 15 boys did not have the typical toys many children would expect to see at Christmas. Their bags contained necessities like soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes and such.

Though many American children do not consider toiletries as Christmas gifts, “…these children think of these items as gifts,” the colonel said.

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