ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU/Gray News) - The Alaska National Guard is carrying out a tradition 63 years strong, bringing Christmas cheer to a remote community. This year the team took Operation Santa to Napakiak.
It's not a traditional sleigh but a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter worked just as well to bring Santa to the small town. The National Guard teamed up with the Salvation Army to bring along gifts, toys, school supplies to Napakiak.
"We're part of Alaska, we want to get out there and make sure that we're being part of rural Alaska and bringing to rural Alaska what we can. Just to see Santa when he walked in the room, and all the kids lighting up. That made my day," said Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe.
Tasty Freeze was on hand as well serving up ice cream sundaes as the kids sang Christmas carols and took pictures with Santa.
"To see the smiles on their faces, even some of the younger ones, being a little afraid of Santa, it's just a great experience, and it's one that I know lies in the memories of the individuals that live in these villages for many many years to come," said Major John Brackenbury with the Salvation Army Alaska Division.
Operation Santa Claus began in 1956 after spring floods and later a drought-impacted subsistence fishing and hunting required St. Mary's Mission to purchase food. They had no additional money for Christmas gifts for the children, so the Air National Guard flew in gifts and supplies donated by the community.
The National Guard typically picks two communities to visit each year. Last month they brought the celebration to Tuntutuliak on November 18th. The last time that Operation Santa was in Napakiak and Tuntutuliak was in 2000.
In the last five years, Op Santa has also visited Akiachak, Akiak, Emmonak, Kipnuk, Kongiganak, Kwigillingok, Savoonga, St. Mary's, St. Michael, Togiak, and Tuluksak.