By Spc. Paizley Ramsey, 134th Public Affairs Detachment
/ Published December 08, 2008
CAMP DENALI, Alaska -- A successful Operation Santa Claus 2008 season neared its end Dec. 6, after a warm visit in the gracious village of Kivalina, with holiday joy and a surprise visit from Gov. Sarah Palin and other distinguished guests.
Kivalina, in Alaska's Northwest Arctic Borough, was the second-to-last city on Santa's list of lucky communities visited during the 52nd annual Operation Santa Claus. The community relations and support program sponsored visits to other rural Alaskan communities including Ruby, Newtok, Stebbins, Teller, Brevig Mission, Chalkyitsik and Metlakatla.
Upon arrival in Kivalina, Alaska Army and Air National Guardsmen -- along with volunteers from the Food Service of America, the Salvation Army and other civilian agencies -- were showered with welcoming sentiment. Children and adults were filled with Christmas spirit as gifts were presented by Santa and Mrs. Claus to the thankful children of Kivalina.
"This is so much fun and the presents are really cool," said Jasmine Adams, 14, of Kivalina.
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."
Every one of Kivalina's 125 students who attend McQueen School were in attendance to receive books, presents, a holiday meal and ice cream, as well as a new Operation Santa Claus feature, pictures of themselves with Santa.
"In past Operation Santa Claus operations we've brought clothes to give as gifts, but that wasn't really a necessity in this instance, so I, along with other members of the Operation Santa Claus committee came up with the idea of getting these kids pictures of themselves with Santa," said Rich Owens, Operation Santa Claus committee member and avid supporter of the Alaska National Guard. Owens, the owner of the Anchorage Tastee-Freez, donated ice cream sundaes for the event.
"Costco donated an entire mobile digital printing station, so we're able to get pictures to these kids, many of whom don't even get school yearbooks," he noted.
From fresh fruit donations from the Food Service of America, to books, gifts and a warm holiday meal, all were in high spirits and thankful for the support of their National Guard.
"It's going to be a good Christmas," said Victor A. Norton, a Kivalina resident. "This event brings such a warm and comfortable feeling to town. We all really appreciate the governor and the generals making time to be here."
Several distinguished military guests were in attendance to give their warm holiday regards to the people of Kivalina. They included Gen. Carrol H. Chandler, Pacific Air Forces commander; Lt. Gen. (Alaska) Craig E. Campbell, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard; Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, Alaskan Command commander; and Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Katkus, Alaska Army National Guard commander.
The people of Kivalina were overjoyed when Palin arrived. Palin, who attended the function with her daughter Piper, 7, was just as honored to be a part of Operation Santa Claus. According to Campbell, Palin personally requested to be a part of the festivities.
"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," Palin said. "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."
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."
Operation Santa Claus has been an annual Alaska tradition for more than 50 years. From its roots delivering toys to the children of St. Mary's in 1956 and throughout the years and evolution of social conditions, not only has Operation Santa Claus spread the joy and charity of Christmas, but it has established and continues to maintain and improve a connection with the people of rural Alaska. It is a way to show all Alaskans that their National Guard is "always ready, always there," and that Alaska Guardsmen care about the people they protect and serve.
"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."