With Santa’s elves on board to deliver gifts, Alaska’s National Guard dealt with a medical emergency

by Lucas Garcia
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Alaska National Guard Santa Helicopter Mission

In rural Alaska this week, Santa Claus’ traditional mode of transportation, his sleigh, was replaced with an Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to deliver gifts to an Alaska Native village. Santa, along with Mrs. Claus and a team of volunteer elves, embarked on a series of flights from the hub community of Bethel, located approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) southwest of their destination, Tuluksak.

However, during the initial trip to Tuluksak, the helicopter crew received an urgent call for assistance with a medical evacuation in the nearby village of Napaskiak, situated just 5 miles (8 kilometers) to the south of Bethel, across the Kuskokwim River. Despite the river typically serving as an ice road in winter, this time of year saw insufficient ice cover to support boats or vehicles, and adverse weather conditions prevented small planes from landing at the village airstrip.

Helicopter pilots Colton Bell and David Berg, both chief warrant officers, swiftly adapted to the situation. They augmented their mission with two paramedics and essential medical equipment, all while carrying the remaining gifts intended for the children. A brief five-minute flight transported them to Napaskiak, where they deployed the paramedics, who estimated a 40-minute timeframe to stabilize the patient. This brief respite allowed the pilots to complete the 15-minute flight to Tuluksak, where they delivered the gifts and volunteers.

Subsequently, they returned to Napaskiak to retrieve the patient and paramedics, promptly flying them to an awaiting ambulance in Bethel. As of Thursday, the patient was reported to be in stable condition, awaiting transportation to an Anchorage hospital.

In the words of helicopter pilot Colton 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.”

For decades, the Alaska National Guard has been providing gifts, supplies, and even the spirit of Christmas itself to remote, small communities scattered across the vast and largely roadless state of Alaska. This tradition dates back to 1956 when residents of St. Mary’s village faced a challenging choice between purchasing gifts for children or securing enough food to endure the harsh winter. That year, after flooding followed by drought disrupted hunting and fishing, the guard initiated its gift-giving program, delivering donated items to the village. Today, they continue to visit two or three villages each year that have encountered hardships.

Long-distance and challenging rescues conducted by guard personnel are a common occurrence in Alaska due to the absence of infrastructure found in more populated areas of the Lower 48.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Alaska National Guard Santa Helicopter Mission

What was the main mission of Alaska’s National Guard in this text?

The main mission of Alaska’s National Guard in this text was to use a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, dressed up as Santa’s sleigh, to deliver gifts to an Alaska Native village, bringing Christmas cheer to the children.

What unexpected event occurred during Santa’s gift delivery mission?

During Santa’s gift delivery mission, an urgent call for a medical evacuation in the nearby village of Napaskiak disrupted the plan. The helicopter crew had to shift their focus to assist with this medical emergency.

How did the Alaska National Guard respond to the medical emergency during the mission?

The Alaska National Guard responded swiftly to the medical emergency by adding two paramedics and medical equipment to the flight. They dropped off the paramedics in Napaskiak and then proceeded to deliver gifts in Tuluksak before returning to Napaskiak to pick up the patient and paramedics, flying them to an ambulance in Bethel.

What is the historical background of the Alaska National Guard’s gift-giving tradition?

The tradition of the Alaska National Guard delivering gifts to remote communities in Alaska dates back to 1956. It began when residents of St. Mary’s village faced a choice between buying gifts for children or securing enough food to survive the harsh winter. The guard initiated its gift-giving program that year to provide donated items to the village, and this tradition continues to this day.

Why are long-distance and challenging rescues common for the Alaska National Guard?

Long-distance and challenging rescues are common for the Alaska National Guard because many remote communities in Alaska lack the infrastructure found in more populated areas. These communities rely on the National Guard’s assistance in times of need, especially during adverse weather conditions and emergencies.

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