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Santa Claus delivered gifts and holiday cheer to the remote village of Akiachak in Western Alaska last week. Only he didn’t use his sleigh and flying reindeer to get there. Instead, jolly old Saint Nick rode in on an Alaska Air National Guard C-130 Hercules.

The reason for Santa’s visit? Operation Santa Claus, an Alaska National Guard community-outreach program that delivers toys, school supplies and other goodies — donated by Alaska businesses and individuals — to children in remote villages.

This year marked the 60th anniversary of the program. Back in 1956, Spring floods wreaked havoc on hunting and fishing season in the village of St. Mary’s. The local Mission used its funds to have food brought in, but there was no money left for Christmas gifts. That’s when Mother Superior Antoinette Johnson wrote a letter to the Alaska Air National Guard asking for help.

Word soon spread via radio, television and newspapers. Donations started flooding in. The Alaska Air National Guard delivered everything, bringing along Santa Claus and elf volunteers on board a 144th AS C-47 Skytrain.

Operation Santa Claus has been a tradition ever since.

Unfortunately, this was the last mission for the 144th AS before it is divested from Alaska service, the Army reported.

“It is a great honor to fly the final C-130 Operation Santa Claus flight for the 144th Airlift Squadron,” said Air National Guard Lt. Col. Richard Adams, 176th Operations Group deputy commander and aircraft commander for the Akiachak sortie. “It’s bittersweet to think this will be the last time (supporting the mission) in the mighty Herc.

“The Alaska National Guard has a long tradition alongside our community partners of supporting Operation Santa Claus,” Adams added. “We look forward to flying Santa with jets, props and rotors long into the future.”

By all accounts, this year’s Operation Santa Claus was a smashing success. Mr. and Mrs. Claus landed in the C-130 and delivered goodies to children in the Akiachak School gymnasium, which was almost completely full of eager children and their parents.

“The feeling here is very happy, very positive,” Yupit School District superintendent Reyna Hartz said. “I think that the community feels loved and appreciated, and I think they recognize … it’s a long way to come, and the fact that you are all here and doing this, we appreciate it very much .”

The feeling was mutual.

“It’s important for Alaska National Guardsmen to be part of this enterprise, because it’s important for us to remember the people that we serve and the communities that depend on us and our relevance and our readiness,” Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Laurie Hummel, adjutant general for the Alaska National Guard, said.

Read more: https://www.army.mil

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