New Mexico pilots participate in Navajo Christmas airlift | Local News


A fleet of airplane-flying Santas recently delivered an early holiday gift to needy residents of the Navajo Nation.

According to participating pilot John Graham, the air mission was akin to a small Berlin airlift.

Of course, there was one major difference: the military operation of 1948-49 was aimed at breaking a Soviet blockade of allied sections of Berlin; The Navajo Christmas Airlift was a civilian-led project to bring much-needed supplies to people who lacked food, medical supplies and water.

The Navajo Christmas Airlift from November 11 to 13 involved more than 50 planes bringing clothing, blankets, food, school supplies, personal protective equipment and children’s toys to Gallup Municipal Airport.

The nonprofit Southwestern Indian Foundation collects and distributes goods to citizens of the Navajo Nation. Among other challenges, a 2020 Prosperity Now report shows that nearly 36% of the area’s residents struggle with household incomes below the federal poverty line.

The initiative began in Arizona in 1984, but this year the mission had something different: it was the first time pilots from New Mexico had participated.

“I think this is a good way to kick off the holiday season, especially as winter approaches and the Christmas season approaches,” Graham, longtime Civilian Air Patrol pilot, told the New -Mexico. “They have a need, and I think it can help.”

He said 12 pilots from New Mexico flying a total of 10 missions took part in the all-volunteer event. Airline coordinator Greg McColley of Phoenix said the airlift typically delivers 10,000 pounds of cargo. This year, he hit the 14,000-pound mark, a record.

And the pilots and additional planes meant the airlift, which typically includes one plane after another landing at the airport to unload its cargo, was spread over three days so the facility could accommodate the traffic, said McColley.

“I suspect that this three day scenario is something that we are going to continue,” he said.

Her late parents, Dick and Betty McColley, founded the airlift with the aim of doing something to help impoverished residents of the Navajo Nation who struggled to access enough food, water, and household and school supplies. .

He said his father had been involved with air service organizations for a while while his mother worked for the state of Arizona, which meant that together they had a lot of contact and ideas to make the project a reality.

It started with less than 10 pilots and planes flying at Window Rock Airport, Ariz., Before evolving, over time, into a regular fleet of at least 40 planes, which required the relocation of operations to Gallup’s largest airport.

The pilots are responsible for collecting the donations. Some pilots rely on local donors, friends and church groups, McColley said.

“I want every plane to be full,” he said. “I don’t want people running over there with a few bags. I want them filled.”

Last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, participants opted to truck virus-related supplies like personal protective equipment and vaccines, McColley said.

The mid-November race gives pilots a better chance to avoid potential winter storms that could block the operation, he said.

He said that last year he started thinking about ways to bring the New Mexico pilots into the initiative. He contacted the New Mexico Pilots Association and Graham responded to see how to help.

“I’m thrilled with New Mexico,” McColley said. “Now that we have a seed planted there, I want to see what that means going forward in terms of New Mexico’s contribution to this effort.


Julio V. Miller