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Inside the Gates: Alaska weather stalls Operation Santa

Published: Dec. 9, 2020 at 7:57 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska National Guard has performed Operation Santa for 65 years delivering holiday gifts to rural Alaska villages.

Another aspect of it is, us going out to these communities is another way to touch base with our veterans in those communities,” Alaska Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. James Nyquist said. “I think it’s important enough, I enjoy what we do to make this happen.”

This year, three villages that have never been paid a visit for Operation Santa were chosen: Birch Creek, Stevens Village and Nanwalek.

“In previous years we go to a school and set up and I’ve taken Santa and Mrs. Santa,” Nyquist said. “Inevitably there is always a basketball there as a gift and we play basketball with the kids in the community.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there will be no visits from Santa or the Salvation Army and National Guard elves. Instead, another first, as the National Guard will use a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to deliver the gifts to the villages’ airports and then have community members hand out the boxes of gifts.

“I think the team did a great job this year interacting with the communities,” Nyquist said. “Communicating with the communities to make this happen in a COVID environment.”

On Dec. 1, a National Guard team from Fairbanks delivered the goods to Birch Creek and Stevens Village.

This week, on Dec. 8, Nanwalek was expected to get its delivery but bad weather in Anchorage postponed the drop-off to Wednesday, Dec. 9. This time, after another delay, the clouds cleared and the team was on its way with the target site just south of Homer. As the Chinook neared the village, the weather changed dropping a mixture of rain and snow. The Chinook had to turn around and land in Homer.

“They could hear the helicopter nearby,” Public Affairs Specialist with the Alaska National Guard Dana Rosso said. “They said they started running out to the airstrip.”

Rosso listened to communication from Nanwalek Airport. Weather plays a big part in Alaska to make missions like these work.

“That’s just Alaska,” Rosso said. “The day before it was bad weather in Anchorage and it was totally fine down there.”

The National Guard will try to make another run on Thursday. If that fails, they will try again to ensure Operation Santa completes its task.

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