Once again for the holidays, Santa switched out his sleigh for a snowmobile to deliver toys to children in remote areas of Alaska — and he had a little help from some Marines.
Despite below-freezing temperatures and limited access to roadways, elements of Marine Forces Reserve’s Detachment Delta Company, 4th Law Enforcement Battalion trekked north of the Arctic Circle to share the Christmas spirit in support of the Toys for Tots program, a national initiative which provides gifts to children whose families are unable to afford them.
Maj. Keith Lowell, Delta Company’s inspector-instructor, dressed up as jolly ol’ Saint Nick for the toy giveaway.
“There’s nothing quite like hearing the little children,” he said in an interview with Marine Corps Times. “You see the sparkle in their eyes, and you see the excitement in their faces just knowing that there are people out there that care about them, that are willing to give back to the community.”
To date, Toys for Tots has distributed 627 million toys since its founding, with 2022 marking the program’s 75th anniversary, according to its website.
The Christmas mission for Marines in Alaska, though, is quite unique compared to that of their fellow reservists around the country. While most other units will cover a city or two, service members in Alaska support the entire state, including communities that require creative logistical solutions to be reached.
Based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, the Marines braved a serious snowstorm in early December to deliver gifts to local schools in areas like Kotzebue, Alaska — a city of roughly 3,000 people about 550 miles northwest of Anchorage — and its surrounding villages.
In lieu of flying reindeer, however, the Marines used aircraft and snowmobiles to get to some of the more distant villages. They also used a KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft to transport the snowmobiles to Kotzebue, according to Marine Forces Reserve.
Sgt. Nicholas Baumbach, an armory chief and the Toys for Tots coordinator for Detachment Delta Company, said in an interview with Marine Corps Times that Marines this year were able to provide around 2,200 toys to kids in Kotzebue and its surrounding villages, plus roughly 20,000 gifts to those in the Anchorage area.
The kids received books, train sets, remote control helicopters and more, he said. Last year, Marines distributed a total of 33,495 toys to 31,395 children in Alaska, according to the Toys for Tots website.
Achieving this mission, the Marines shared, would not be possible without the help of the business partners who assisted in dropping the toys off in Alaska and the local community leaders who knew how to quickly and safely reach the remote villages.
Brad Reich, mayor of Kiana, Alaska, another small town east of Kotzebue, has long supported the Marines on these types of journeys.
“It’s a real blessing to have this program because there’s a lot of unfortunate kids out there, but also this is really good cold weather environment training for the Marines,” he said.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media