Concerned about well-intentioned death from above, two FSM Governors call for cancellation of Operation Christmas Drop

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press


November 29, 2020

Pohnpei—On November 23 and 24, the FSM Department of Foreign Affairs forwarded to the U.S. Embassy to the FSM, two letters written by two FSM Governors requesting cancellation of the 69th Annual Operation Christmas Drop which is set to happen on December 5.

“Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force ha(s) carefully reviewed the health risks Involved and, with regrets, advise(s) that it is in the best interest of our people and everyone who cares for us to reconsider and hold off on this year’s Christmas Drop,” wrote Pohnpei’s Governor Reed Oliver.  “The vulnerability of our outer island populations toward potential outbreak of this contagious virus, COVID-19, is a risk too high and a cost too exorbitant to leave it to chance. It is better to err on the side or caution than to risk lives under this very vulnerable circumstance.”

“…I deeply regret to inform you that I have received written requests from the Council of traditional chiefs of the Yap outer islands, formally recognized as the Council of Tamol, and our Yap State COVID-19 Task Force Leading Agency, Yap State Department of Health Services, to respectfully inform you to convey their regretful request to our friends at the U.S. Embassy to kindly cancel the Christmas Drop operation for this year, if it is still possible, particularly for the Yap Outer Islands,” wrote Yap’s Governor Henry Falan This request is made due to the risk and fear of introducing COVID-19 into our vulnerable islands and

people, since our borders are still closed, and I do hope that this special tradition will continue in the years ahead when COVID-19 is no longer a threat to our people.

Both Governors expressed deep regret for the need to cancel the airdrop which was scheduled to begin on December 5 and also for all of the work and time that has already gone into the preparation for the drops.  “This annual tradition of Christmas Drop by the U.S. Air Force has been a special tradition of love and care between our two nations and it has been in practice for many decades. It is also a tradition that uplifts the Christmas spirit in the lives of people of all ages on these remote islands including children and adults over many decades during this time of year,” wrote Governor Falan.  Governor Oliver expressed similar feelings.

On November 25, an online publication of the Pacific Air Forces published an article entitled, “US, Japan to kick off Operation Christmas Drop despite COVID-19”. The article describes the extensive safety precautions to guard against COVID-19 transmission potentially being carried from dropped cargo on what would have been the 69th iteration of the Department of Defense’s longest annual, bilateral humanitarian and disaster relief training mission.

According to Bruce Best, even if the FSM elects not to participate, the Christmas Drop will continue into its 69th year at least in Palau which has not to date expressed any desire to cancel it.  “…Very sad for the outer islands,” he wrote. “We even had extra tools for Kapingamarangi to help repair rain catchment.”  Though the atoll island of Kapingamarangi has recently received some rain it has been in the grips of a severe drought requiring outside aid for some time now.

US Charge d’Affaires Somer E. Bessire-Briers said that at least as of today, the FSM has not yet made an official request to cancel the drop entirely. She said that she had received a communication from FSM President David Panuelo that he was trying to work on a safe way to administer the drop and that she expected final word would come by Monday, our print deadline day.

Best said that the FSM had bandied about the idea of just dropping all the boxes to the State centers for the States to later transport the items to the outer islands.  He said that plan doesn’t take into account things like expiration dates on donated items, USDA restrictions, or the fact that the New Zealand, Australian, Japanese and other armed forces are spending money to be involved specifically to learn and to practice the low level drops that the United States Air Force does.

He said that the pilots, crew, commanders and other military personnel involved in Operation Christmas Drop are anxiously awaiting updates since they will need to deal with the details of changed logistics.

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