Alaskan National Guard Undertakes Medical Mission Amid Santa’s Gift Delivery to Remote Village

by Madison Thomas
Alaska National Guard Santa Helicopter Mission

This week, the Alaskan National Guard’s UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, doubling as Santa Claus’ sleigh, embarked on a unique mission in rural Alaska. The helicopter, transporting Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves, and presents, was initially set out to spread holiday joy among children in Tuluksak, a village located about 35 miles southwest of the central hub of Bethel.

However, the mission took an unexpected turn after the helicopter’s first journey to Tuluksak. An urgent request for a medical evacuation emerged from Napaskiak, a nearby village situated roughly 5 miles south of Bethel, across the Kuskokwim River. The river, typically a frozen ice road during winter, was inadequately frozen to support vehicles and too thick for boat navigation. Additionally, poor weather conditions hindered small aircraft from reaching Napaskiak’s airstrip.

Responding promptly, pilots Colton Bell and David Berg, along with two paramedics and essential medical equipment, redirected their mission. The helicopter swiftly reached Napaskiak in five minutes. After leaving the paramedics to stabilize the patient – estimated to take about 40 minutes – the pilots utilized this window to deliver the gifts and volunteers to Tuluksak, a 15-minute flight away.

Once the gifts were distributed, the crew returned to Napaskiak, retrieved the now-stable patient and paramedics, and transported them to Bethel, where an ambulance awaited. The patient was later prepared for transfer to a hospital in Anchorage.

Colton Bell highlighted the mission’s success, emphasizing their ability to adeptly adjust to evolving situations, particularly under challenging weather conditions, while maintaining efficiency and safety.

For over six decades, the Alaska National Guard has been instrumental in delivering not just gifts but also essential supplies and, in many cases, the spirit of Christmas itself to numerous small, remote communities across Alaska. This tradition traces back to 1956 when the Guard first aided the village of St. Mary’s, which faced a tough decision between buying Christmas gifts and securing food after natural disasters impacted their hunting and fishing resources.

The Guard continues this legacy, aiming to visit two to three hardship-stricken villages annually. In a state like Alaska, where infrastructure differs significantly from the contiguous United States, such long-distance and challenging rescue missions by the Guard are not uncommon.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Alaska National Guard Mission

What was the Alaska National Guard’s mission in rural Alaska?

The Alaska National Guard’s mission involved delivering Christmas gifts to children in Tuluksak using a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. This festive task was coupled with an urgent medical evacuation from the nearby village of Napaskiak.

How did the mission change during the delivery to Tuluksak?

After the first trip to Tuluksak, the mission took an unexpected turn when the crew received an emergency call for a medical evacuation from Napaskiak. They quickly adapted by adding paramedics and medical equipment to their flight, while still managing to deliver the Christmas gifts.

What challenges did the Alaska National Guard face during this mission?

The challenges included navigating the partially frozen Kuskokwim River, which was not suitable for vehicle travel or boat navigation, and dealing with adverse weather conditions that prevented small planes from landing in Napaskiak.

How did the pilots manage both the gift delivery and the medical evacuation?

Pilots Colton Bell and David Berg efficiently managed both tasks by first dropping off paramedics in Napaskiak to stabilize the patient, then delivering gifts to Tuluksak, and finally returning to transport the patient and paramedics to Bethel.

What is the significance of the Alaska National Guard’s gift delivery tradition?

The tradition of delivering gifts and supplies by the Alaska National Guard dates back to 1956 and is significant for providing support and holiday cheer to remote communities in Alaska, often facing hardships and lacking the infrastructure found in more accessible regions.

More about Alaska National Guard Mission

  • Alaska National Guard’s Christmas Missions
  • UH-60 Black Hawk in Alaskan Missions
  • Rural Alaska and the Kuskokwim River
  • Medical Evacuation Operations in Alaska
  • History of Alaskan National Guard’s Support to Remote Villages

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Tom R. November 17, 2023 - 2:20 pm

This story is incredible! the pilots and paramedics deserve huge respect. challenging weather, and still they manage to save lives and spread holiday cheer.

Elaine K. November 17, 2023 - 5:20 pm

I wish there were more stories like this, showing the positive impact of our military. it’s not all about combat, sometimes it’s about caring and helping communities.

Mike Jenson November 18, 2023 - 12:13 am

really amazing how the Alaska guard can switch from a xmas mission to a medical one so fast. shows great adaptability and commitment!

Sarah L. November 18, 2023 - 8:44 am

it’s heartwarming to read about the Guard bringing joy to kids, especially in remote areas. reminds us of the true spirit of christmas 🙂


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