Santa Comes to St. Michael

Santa and Mrs. Claus Arrive at St. Michael

Even though reindeer are plentiful in the sub-Arctic, that’s not necessarily how Old St. Nick makes his Western Alaska deliveries each Christmas.

As volunteer Zoe Grueskin reported for KNOM listeners last month, Santa traveled to the village of St. Michael with some special help. Here’s Zoe’s story, which your support brought to the airwaves just days before Christmas:

Earlier this month, students in St. Michael received a Christmas visit from the Alaska National Guard. The star of the show: Santa Claus himself.

Operation Santa Claus is an annual tradition for the Alaska National Guard. Along with Santa and Mrs. Claus, around 30 airmen flew to St. Michael from the Alaska Air National Guard’s 211th Rescue Squadron.

A brand-new HC-130J Combat King II airplane, normally used for search and rescue, was loaded with wrapped gifts and backpacks for every student in the village. With the help of local volunteers, the school was transformed for the day. Children lined up to sit with Santa, and airmen passed out more treats, including ice cream sundaes, basketballs, and hand-knit hats made by volunteers in Florida.

Staff Sergeant Isaac Owen distributed gifts and helped brighten the event with music, singing and playing Christmas songs on guitar. He said, “It’s absolutely incredible just to see the joy it brings to the children. What a joy; what a privilege to be a part of it.”

Operation Santa Claus, or “Op Santa,” is now in its 61st year. The first took place in 1956, when natural disaster struck St. Mary’s just before the holidays. Today, it’s a way for the Alaska National Guard to connect with rural communities around the state.

Lieutenant Colonel Eric Budd is commander of the 211th Rescue Squadron — and the pilot for Op Santa 2017. He said, “It was an honor to step in for Rudolph and the other reindeer.”

All images above and below: “Operation Santa Claus” comes to St. Michael. (All photos public domain, via the Alaska National Guard.)

Volunteers with Operation Santa Claus prepare gifts and goodies for the children of St. Michael.

The children of St. Michael visit with volunteers and Alaska National Guard members during Operation Santa Claus.

A St. Michael child meets with Santa and Mrs. Claus while a National Guard member snaps a photo.