Alaska Guard Continues 'Operation Santa Claus' Tradition

By Army Spc. Paizley Ramsey
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP DENALI, Alaska, Dec. 12, 2008 - Children from rural Alaskan communities were treated to an early Christmas this year, thanks to the Alaska National Guard's "Operation Santa Claus."

The community relations and support program provides toys, books and school supplies for young people in communities across the state.

The 50-year tradition continued this week in Kivalina, a city in Alaska's Northwest Arctic borough. More than 100 students from McQueen School received books, presents, a holiday meal and a new Operation Santa Claus feature, photos with Santa, on Dec. 6.

"This is so much fun, and the presents are really cool," Jasmine Adams, 14, said.

Fellow student Warren Hawley, 13, agreed. "This is the best, better than anything," he said. "This doesn't happen very much, and we want you guys to come back."

Residents also enjoyed a surprise visit from Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

"It's wonderful to be here in Kivalina to celebrate the holidays and to be able to do this for the children of the community," said Palin, who was accompanied by her daughter Piper. "It's good to be able to show our support for the National Guard and to show the people of Alaska what our Guard is up to."

Several military guests were on hand, including Air Force Gen. Carrol H. Chandler, Pacific Air Forces commander; Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig E. Campbell, Alaska's adjutant general; Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, Alaskan Command commander; and Army Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Katkus, Alaska Army National Guard commander.

"The greatest thing about Operation Santa Claus is that we get to share our gifts, and the people of the communities get to share their culture," Campbell said. "Operation Santa Claus becomes a bonding experience for both urban and rural Alaska."

After a hot Christmas dinner, lifelong Kivalina resident Larry Adams expressed his thanks to the men and women of the Alaska Guard.

"It's absolutely great what the Guard is doing, and the kids just love this," Adams said. "I wish they would do this more often. We would love to see the Guard here again -- only we don't want to wait until next winter. Come see us again this summer."

The Guard also sponsored visits to other rural Alaskan communities, including Ruby, Newtok, Stebbins, Teller, Brevig Mission and Chalkyitsik. A visit to Metlakatla also is planned.

(Army Spc. Paizley Ramsey serves with the Alaska National Guard.)

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