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NEWS | Dec. 6, 2023

Alaska Guard Spreads Holiday Cheer to Remote Communities

By Balinda ONeal, Alaska National Guard Public Affairs

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - For the 68th year, the Alaska National Guard's Operation Santa Claus is bringing the magic of the season to the remote communities of Fort Yukon, Golovin, Koyuk and Tuluksak.

Teaming up with the Salvation Army, the Guard will deliver gifts and tidings of good cheer to approximately 560 children.

Jenny Ragland, a service extension and disaster services director with the Salvation Army, said the organization collects the gifts and the Guard provides logistical support.

“So, when we show up in a community with Santa, there is a gift with every child's name that we share with them," she said. "... Operation Santa wouldn't happen without the partnership between the Salvation Army and the Alaska National Guard.” 

Gifts earmarked for the western Alaska communities were palletized by National Guardsmen at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson before their journey to Bethel or Nome. The Alaska Air National Guard's C-17 Globemaster III and the Alaska Army National Guard's C-12 Huron fixed-wing aircraft facilitated the transport.

Upon reaching the hub locations of Bethel and Nome, Santa, Mrs. Claus and their helper elves continued their journey to Tuluksak Nov. 14 and Golovin Nov. 30 via Army Guard UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters loaded with all the gifts.

Hanna Alexie, a kindergarten teacher in Tuluksak, said her students looked out the classroom window eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus.

"The students were very excited for this day, and today they were very anxious waiting,” she said. “They didn't want to take off their coats too, waiting in our classroom. They couldn't wait for you guys."

Jerry Hawk, a community member, expressed gratitude for the rare gathering. He emphasized the significance of bringing the community together to celebrate the holiday.

"The best part was bringing my grandkids over here with everybody, with the community,” said Hawk. "The peace of joy, the peace of God is within us.

"I'd like to thank everybody that came over, the [National Guard], Santa Claus, and all the presents, and all the people that came here,” said Hawk. “I'd like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas. Thank you.”

Two weeks later, the jolly bunch continued the heartwarming journey to Golovin, where local cheerleaders led chants and performed choreographed routines while welcoming the festive visitors.

Donna Katchatag, tribal coordinator, said, the community "prepared desserts, cookies, lemonade, and all the decorating was the help of the kids also."

Katchatag was a young student the last time Operation Santa Claus visited.

“I don’t have any memories besides him leaving, and I was wondering, why is Santa leaving in a helicopter?” said Katchatag.

It is an Operation Santa Claus tradition that the festivities kick off with everyone singing “Jingle Bells.” Students were then called one by one to meet and take a photo with Santa and receive personalized gifts and candy canes.

In the interior, gifts destined for Fort Yukon were loaded onto the Black Hawk at Ladd Army Airfield on Fort Wainwright, ensuring a direct and efficient delivery Dec 1.

The program visits the community of Koyuk over the first two weeks of December, promising more holiday magic for these remote areas.

 

 

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