Ambassador Riley Remarks at 2019 Operation Christmas Drop Push Ceremony

Ambassador Robert Riley speaks at the Operation Christmas Drop opening ceremony at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Dec. 9, 2019.

It is an incredible honor and pleasure to take part in Operation Christmas Drop once more. This is the third time I have participated in the exercise since I arrived in the Federated States of Micronesia, or FSM; the first time was in 2016, when we dropped 10 large crates of supplies on the islands of Woleai Atoll. I was on leave in 2017; but last year, FSM Vice President George and INDOPACOM Commander Davidson joined me on an Operation Christmas Drop flight out of Chuuk, dropping crates on Nama, one of the Mortlock groupings of outer islands in Chuuk state. I understand that in previous years, other FSM Presidents and high officials have participated in Operation Christmas Drop.

This year it is a truly special occasion with FSM President Panuelo and the First Lady joining us tomorrow on our expedition to the Yap State outer islands of Mogmog and Fassarai; and we are also honored to have them present here with us at the Push Ceremony. This manifests clearly the importance of Operation Christmas Drop in our special and enduring relationship.

The defense and security relationship of the United States and the FSM is framed by the Compact of Free Association, which clearly stipulates that the United States will provide for the defense of the FSM as it would its own homeland. The continuation of Operation Christmas Drop is a manifestation of this commitment.

Operation Christmas Drop is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian airlift operation in the world. For 68 years, since its inception in 1952, the Operation Christmas Drop mission has demonstrated America’s good will to those with few material resources.

This year Operation Christmas Drop 2019 will provide nearly 25 tons of critical supplies to 56 Micronesian islands benefitting about 20,000 people in some of the most logistically challenged locations in the world. This is result of the cumulative efforts by dedicated individuals (such as Bruce Best who has been leading the effort for almost 40 years), NGOs, and the US Air Force. I am deeply grateful to all those involved for their hard work and commitment.

In addition to its crucial humanitarian aspect, Operation Christmas Drop is a multi-nation training event in which C-130 aircrews from the United States, Japan, Australia,  and, for the first time, New Zealand will airdrop food, supplies, equipment, educational materials, and toys to islanders throughout the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau. These islands are some of the most remote islands on the globe spanning a distance nearly as broad as the continental US.

Over the course of 12 days, this team of allies work together on Low-Cost Low-Altitude airdrop tactics and procedures over unsurveyed drop zones. In addition to distributing much needed supplies and equipment, this operation is important because it provides training to air crews that improves their speed of response in the event of a critical humanitarian aid or contingency operation in the region. These activities can prepare military teams to provide relief in the wake of tragedy.

Multilateral and multinational approaches are the best way to meet our shared interests.  We are stronger and more effective when working together, and we are better prepared to meet the challenges of this region as a principled security network. And our ability to inter-operate with our allies and like-minded partners is critical to addressing broader shared interests across the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Every year folks from the outer islands look forward to Operation Christmas Drop; they take it very seriously and work closely with the Planners and with the legendary Bruce Best to coordinate the various drop zones on each island. I would like to thank profoundly everyone who has taken part in the coordination, planning, and implementation of this absolutely amazing event.