Air Force and Alaska National Guard team up to bring Christmas cheer to St. George

St. George resident Till Lekanof, age 1, gets some personal attention from Santa and Mrs. Santa during an Operation Santa Claus mission on Nov. 7, 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

St. George resident Till Lekanof, age 1, gets some personal attention from Santa and Mrs. Santa during an Operation Santa Claus mission on Nov. 7, 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

MSgt. Ron Larsen, a pianist with the Elmendorf-based Air Force Band of the Pacific, hauls gear off the C-17 that transported the band members and Operation Santa Claus volunteers to St. George. Assisting him as roadie is Lt. Col. Richard Cavens, wing chaplain for the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

MSgt. Ron Larsen, a pianist with the Elmendorf-based Air Force Band of the Pacific, hauls gear off the C-17 that transported the band members and Operation Santa Claus volunteers to St. George. Assisting him as roadie is Lt. Col. Richard Cavens, wing chaplain for the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Santa and Mrs. Santa disembark at the St. George airstrip on Nov. 7, 2009. A close partnership between the Alaska Air National Guard's 249th Airlift Squadron and the U.S. Air Force's 517 Airlift Squadron made possible the first use of a C-17 Globemaster III in the 53-year history of Operation Santa Claus. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Santa and Mrs. Santa disembark at the St. George airstrip on Nov. 7, 2009. A close partnership between the Alaska Air National Guard's 249th Airlift Squadron and the U.S. Air Force's 517 Airlift Squadron made possible the first use of a C-17 Globemaster III in the 53-year history of Operation Santa Claus. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Katkus, then the acting adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, stacks groceries in a pickup truck for transport to the St. George School. Gen. Katkus was named the Alaska National Guard's adjutant general three days later. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Katkus, then the acting adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, stacks groceries in a pickup truck for transport to the St. George School. Gen. Katkus was named the Alaska National Guard's adjutant general three days later. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

The Arctic Sax Quartet, part of the Air Force Band of the Pacific, performs at the St. George School on Nov. 7, 2009. In the foreground is Master Sgt. Brian Jenner on baritone sax; behind him are Tech. Sgt. Mike Van Arsdale (left) on tenor sax, and Master Sgt. Lon Throop on alto sax. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

The Arctic Sax Quartet, part of the Air Force Band of the Pacific, performs at the St. George School on Nov. 7, 2009. In the foreground is Master Sgt. Brian Jenner on baritone sax; behind him are Tech. Sgt. Mike Van Arsdale (left) on tenor sax, and Master Sgt. Lon Throop on alto sax. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Tech. Sgt. Mike Van Arsdale, a member of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific, plays a Christmas tune at St. George School on Nov. 7, 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Tech. Sgt. Mike Van Arsdale, a member of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific, plays a Christmas tune at St. George School on Nov. 7, 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Jake Lestenkoff, former adjutant general for the Alaska Air National Guard, addresses the crowd in the St. George School. It was a homecoming for Lestenkoff, who was born on St. George. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Jake Lestenkoff, former adjutant general for the Alaska Air National Guard, addresses the crowd in the St. George School. It was a homecoming for Lestenkoff, who was born on St. George. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Staff Sgt. Jeff Dahlseng, a trombonist with the Northern Light Brass section of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific, performs for St. George residents as part of Operation Santa Claus 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Staff Sgt. Jeff Dahlseng, a trombonist with the Northern Light Brass section of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific, performs for St. George residents as part of Operation Santa Claus 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Two components of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific -- the Arctic Sax Quartet and the Northern Lights Brass -- visited St. George Island on Nov. 7 as part of Operation Santa Claus 2009. The musicians filled the St. George School auditorium with a variety of popular Christmas melodies. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Two components of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific -- the Arctic Sax Quartet and the Northern Lights Brass -- visited St. George Island on Nov. 7 as part of Operation Santa Claus 2009. The musicians filled the St. George School auditorium with a variety of popular Christmas melodies. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Naomi Philemonof and son Esaias, age 1, relax on the bleachers at St. George School during a performance by the Air Force Band of the Pacific. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.
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Naomi Philemonof and son Esaias, age 1, relax on the bleachers at St. George School during a performance by the Air Force Band of the Pacific. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Cordell Merculief, 4, enjoys a rare taste of self-serve ice cream during an Operation Santa Claus visit Nov. 7. The ice cream was donated by the Tastee-Freez restaurant in Anchorage, which has a long history of supporting Operation Santa Claus and other military programs in Alaska. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.
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Cordell Merculief, 4, enjoys a rare taste of self-serve ice cream during an Operation Santa Claus visit Nov. 7. The ice cream was donated by the Tastee-Freez restaurant in Anchorage, which has a long history of supporting Operation Santa Claus and other military programs in Alaska. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

Till Lekanof, age 1, gets a spoonful of ice cream from Grandpa Ted while his mother, Chelsea, looks on. The ice cream was donated by the Tastee-Freez restaurant in Anchorage, which has a long history of supporting Operation Santa Claus and other military programs in Alaska. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.
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Till Lekanof, age 1, gets a spoonful of ice cream from Grandpa Ted while his mother, Chelsea, looks on. The ice cream was donated by the Tastee-Freez restaurant in Anchorage, which has a long history of supporting Operation Santa Claus and other military programs in Alaska. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

KBRJ's morning disk jocky DeAnna hauls a load of Christmas gifts for the kids at the St. George School. DeAnna volunteered to travel to St. George to serve as master of ceremonies for the Operation Santa Claus visit. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.
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KBRJ's morning disk jocky DeAnna hauls a load of Christmas gifts for the kids at the St. George School. DeAnna volunteered to travel to St. George to serve as master of ceremonies for the Operation Santa Claus visit. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Callahan.

ST. GEORGE, Alaska -- Instead of the sounds of jingle bells and hooves, the children of this remote Bering Sea island heard for the first time the powerful engines of a huge Air Force C-17 cargo jet ushering in their beloved Santa Claus the afternoon of Nov. 7.

Santa and Mrs. Claus were in St. George as part of Operation Santa Claus 2009. Now in its 53rd year, Operation Santa Claus is an outreach program for Alaska's joint force military and community supporters. Businesses and individuals around Alaska contribute toys, food and other supplies, which are then transported to rural villages during the holiday season by Alaska Air and Army National Guard units.

The St. George visit marked the first time a C-17 has been used in conjunction with operation Santa Claus. The new capability was made possible by the close working relationship the Alaska Air National Guard's Elmendorf-based 249th Airlift Squadron has developed with the Air Force's 517th Airlift Squadron. The 249th formed about two years ago and was formally activated in September. It is in a "classic association" with the 517th; that is, it supplies flight crews and maintenance personnel who work side-by-side with their active-duty counterparts.

Nearly the entire village of St. George turned out to meet the Alaska Guard members, airmen and local Anchorage volunteers who brought with them a holiday meal, lively music and a planeload of gifts. The cafeteria in the St. George School was filled with smiles, and lively chatter provided a counterpoint to seasonal melodies played by the Air Force Band of the Pacific.

"This is great," said Carol Randall, the school principal. "Because we're not on the road system, they don't get to see stuff like this ... The whole town was excited about this -- they couldn't wait for this to happen."

"This trip was very special. Using the C-17 with both an active duty Air Force and Alaska Air National Guard crew demonstrated the great relationship between our two organizations and I think it's a mark of the future of the association between the Air Force and the Air National Guard," remarked Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who traveled to St. George.

Operation Santa Claus began in 1956 as a benefit for a mission school in St. Mary's, a tiny Yukon River village in western Alaska. Since then it has expanded, reaching out to villages all over the state. Each year, a different set of villages is chosen as destinations; additional destinations this year include Koyuk, Nondalton, Gambell, Klukwan, Pedro Bay and Kasigluk.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Katkus, acting adjutant general for the Alaska National Guard, described the mission as a great training opportunity.

The mission allows Alaska's joint military forces to "take [our] tremendous military assets and apply them in such a positive manner to our communities, especially during the holiday season," he said.

"We get to bring a little bit of happiness with us," added Mrs. Claus.
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