Flight to the North Pole
By: Lieutenant Matt Hedgren
Christmastime at The Salvation Army corps in Jackson, Mississippi, is time to fire up the engines of a Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 cargo plane for a special and unforgettable trip. The Guard’s 172nd Airlift Wing and radio station Y101.7 create an unparalleled Christmas experience for selected Angel Tree recipients: The Flight to the North Pole. For 11 years, it’s been a magical event that shows children in this community they are special, loved and not forgotten.
Leading up to the special night, Y101.7 does a week of live remote broadcasts from an area Wal-Mart, reading Angels’ names and information on the air and encouraging the community to adopt these special angels. Their effort fills a semi-truck with toys and allows all 60 children aboard the Flight to the North Pole to be adopted, as well as hundreds more.
When the day arrives, children check in at the Air National Guard base. After singing Christmas carols and playing games, they head out to board a massive C-17. The youngsters watch as a volunteer hands the pilot “reindeer dust” that will let the giant plane reach the North Pole in under 10 minutes.
The pilot revs the engines and taxis out. There are no windows, just the sensation of flying. Then, the plane stops. The engines go silent. The rear cargo ramp drops. What happens next is a moment children, parents and volunteers will never forget.
Cheers erupt as Santa, Mrs. Claus, and hundreds of “elves” greet the children as they exit the plane into Santa’s Workshop – actually, a hangar bursting with holiday decorations and filled with Santa’s helpers dressed in festive red and green. An elf is assigned as host to each family, taking them to stations to play games, hear stories of Christmas, eat cookies and, finally, receive their gifts from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
A night like the Flight to the North Pole only happens when people dream big and come together to make memories that will last a lifetime for these children and families. The second that giant airplane door lowers, shouts of joy from the children erupt, and parents and volunteers begin to tear up.
Every child leaves that night with many gifts, including a bicycle; but more importantly, they leave with memories they will always treasure.