An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

NEWS | Nov. 16, 2023

Alaska National Guard's Operation Santa Claus makes a lifesaving detour

By Balinda O'Neal Alaska National Guard

The Alaska National Guard's annual community outreach program, Operation Santa Claus, took an unexpected turn this year as its mission to bring holiday joy to the village of Tuluksak became a vital lifeline for a resident of the nearby village of Napaskiak.

On Nov. 15, the Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter supporting Operation Santa Claus was en route to deliver gifts and holiday cheer to the children of Tuluksak when an urgent call for assistance came into to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. 

A critically ill patient in Napaskiak required immediate medical evacuation, but adverse weather and icy runway conditions prevented civilian air ambulances from landing there.

Napaskiak is five miles south of Bethel on the other side of the Kuskokwim River. With river ice restricting travel by boat and insufficient snow and ice for travel by snowmachine or ice road, evacuation by helicopter was the only option.

As soon as the AKARNG accepted the mission from the AKRCC, the pilots, Chief Warrant Officers 2 Colton Bell and David Berg, assigned to Golf Company, 2-211th (General Support Aviation Battalion), altered their mission plan to prioritize the medevac.

Having just completed one of two scheduled Operation Santa Claus flights to Tuluksak, the aircrew added two LifeMed paramedics and equipment onto the helicopter with the remaining gifts and volunteers that were already on board and immediately headed to Napaskiak.

Bell said that Chief Warrant Officer 3 Nick Lime, an aviation maintenance technician and crew chief assigned to Delta Co., 2-211th (GSAB), played a crucial role in the team accomplishing both missions within seven hours despite rainy and icy weather conditions.

“He assisted greatly in the configuration of the aircraft and loading and unloading of patients, medics, and passengers even with the mission changes and difficult weather conditions,” said Bell. “Our UH-60L is able to transport up to 13 passengers with a full assortment of seats.  In this case we didn’t need all of them so we took out the extra seats to make room for the presents, medical equipment and paramedics.”

Less than five minutes after departing Bethel, the helicopter touched down in Napaskiak, delivering the paramedics and medical equipment to stabilize the patient for travel at the local clinic, a process expected to take 30-40 minutes.

The aircrew then flew 15 minutes to Tuluksak, to deliver the remaining volunteers and gifts.
 
They immediately flew back to Napaskiak to pick up the paramedics and patient and flew them to the Army Aviation Operating Facility in Bethel where the patient was transferred to a LifeMed ambulance. As of Thursday, Nov. 16, the patient was in stable condition and awaiting transport via civilian air ambulance to an Anchorage hospital.

“The integration of the LifeMed folks went seamlessly due to previous detailed cold-load trainings and lessons learned in past joint medevac missions,” said Bell. “The coordination with LifeMed was extremely smooth since Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bryan Kruse was in the hangar during the mission and coordinated with LifeMed, RCC, and state Army aviation officer, while the crew continued executing the Op Santa mission simultaneously.”

While the Black Hawk and crew completed the medevac mission, Santa, Mrs. Claus and 10 other Alaska National Guard and Salvation Army volunteers delivered an early Christmas to the children of Tuluksak as planned. After celebrating with gifts, ice cream and photos with Santa, the team loaded back onto the Black Hawk for the trip back to the AKARNG aviation facility, where they transferred to an awaiting Alaska Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster III for the final leg back to JBER.

“This mission was a great example of how the Alaska National Guard is able to work jointly between Army, Air Force, and multiple civilian agencies to support the local population through state missions like Operation Santa and through federal missions such as this RCC request for assistance,” said Bell. “This mission specifically showcases our abilities to adapt to multiple, rapidly changing missions while operating in adverse weather while still completing them efficiently and safely.”
 
Alaska Air National Guardsman volunteers as JROTC drill judge
February 22, 2024
Alaska Air National Guardsman volunteers as JROTC drill judge

Bison Company’s cold weather training triumphs in Bethel
February 7, 2024
Bison Company, 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, demonstrated readiness and resilience during their cold weather training in Bethel, Alaska, February 2-4, 2024.
This training marked a significant reunion for the Alaska Army National Guard infantry unit in Bethel, emphasizing the city's importance as a training ground that challenges Soldiers to adapt and excel in real-world scenarios.

Alaska Naval Militia, U.S. Navy Reserve pay tribute to S-26 submariners
January 24, 2024
In a solemn gathering at the U.S. Navy Reserve Center on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, sailors from the Alaska Naval Militia and U.S. Navy Reserve assembled Jan. 24, to pay homage to their fallen comrades lost 82 years ago.

Aircraft maintenance Airmen critical part of Pave Hawk transport mission
January 11, 2024
Airmen from the Alaska Air National Guard 176th Aircraft Maintenance from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and the active duty 718th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Kadena Air Base, Japan, conducted a joint operation to transport an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter from Bethel to JBER in early January 2024.

Alaska National Guard's Operation Santa Claus spreads holiday cheer to remote communities
December 5, 2023
Alaska Air National Guard pilots 1st Lt. Skylar Caldwell, left, and Capt. Gerren Blair, and loadmaster, Tech Sgt. John Teamer II, enjoy time with Santa and Mrs. Claus while flying the festive couple to Bethel during Operation Santa Claus Nov. 15, 2023.

Alaska Military Youth Academy honored with Gold Pan Award
November 22, 2023
The Anchorage Chamber of Commerce hosted the 66th Annual Gold Pan Awards on Nov. 17, 2023, at the Dena'ina Center in Anchorage.

Alaska National Guard's Operation Santa Claus makes a lifesaving detour
November 16, 2023
From the left, Holly Demert and Clifton Dalton, both flight paramedics with LifeMed, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bryan Kruse, Bethel Army Aviation Operating Facility commander, move a critically ill patient from an AKARNG UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter to an ambulance during a medical evacuation from Napaskiak to Bethel, Nov. 15, 2023

Cadets soar in Civil Air Patrol search and rescue exercise
November 13, 2023
Civil Air Patrol Lt. Col. Stephen Sammons, left, Alaska Wing emergency services officer, instructs CAP cadets from the Southcentral Region where to find an Emergency Locator Transmitter onboard a Cessna 172 aircraft during a three-day training event Nov. 4, 2023, at the Birchwood Airport in Chugiak, Alaska.

A new set of cross pistols: AKARNG "Wolf Gang" Military Police Company deactivates, ushering in new detachment
November 3, 2023
Alaska Army National Guard Capt. Michael Thrall, left, outgoing commander, and 1st Sgt. Bethany Amarone, outgoing noncommissioned officer in charge, both assigned to the 297th Military Police Company, retire the colors of the unit’s flag as part of a deactivation ceremony for the company at the Alcantra Armory in Wasilla, Alaska, Nov. 2, 2023.

Alaska Army National Guard’s Bison Company set to deploy to Middle East
September 30, 2023
Alaska Army National Guard 1st Sgt. Oliver Meza, Bravo Company first sergeant, shows off his unit’s patch during a deployment ceremony where family members, friends, and fellow Guardsmen came together to pay tribute to Soldiers of B Co., 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, at the Alaska National Guard Armory on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Sept. 29, 2023.