Grand Canyon Airport helps Marines deliver toys to Havasupai
Airport support crucial to success of 'Operation Supai'
Most of the helicopters that land and take off from the Grand Canyon National Park Airport, owned and operated by the Arizona Department of Transportation, are owned by tour companies taking their customers on a breathtaking air tour of the Grand Canyon. However, on Dec. 3, two helicopters arrived at the airport that were not owned by a tour company, but by the United States Marine Corps.
The two CH-46E Sea Knights landed at the airport on that Monday afternoon as Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 764 (HMM-764), also known as ‘Moonlighters,’ arrived to participate in their annual mission, known as Operation Supai, to bring food and toys to the remote Havasupai Indian Tribe that live in the Grand Canyon.
HMM-764, based out of Edwards Air Force Base in California, was selected by the Northern Arizona Marine Corps League in 1995 to deliver the goods every year to the tribe. They partner with the local Marine Toys for Tots program in Flagstaff and St. Mary’s Food Bank.
“This operation is something the tribe depends on every year,” said Dick McCallum, a Toys for Tots volunteer and former Santa Claus in past years. “For 17 years in a row, we’ve always made it in with toys and food.”
The ADOT staff at the Grand Canyon airport play a critical support role in that impressive track record. The staff provides fuel for the helicopters as well as a safe place to keep them for the days they are there. In past years, when inclement weather threatened the success of the operation, airport staff would plow the landing pads and runway clear of snow to ensure the helicopters could still deliver the goods to the tribe.
“The support ADOT provides is invaluable,” said Major Charles Nunally, executive officer and helicopter pilot for the squadron. “Without the support of the airport, we wouldn’t be able to do this mission.”
This annual event has been described as the biggest day for the tribe because they live in a remote location and are hard to get to. It is about an 11-mile hike from the rim of the canyon down to their tribe location. They live outside the main area of the Grand Canyon National Park.
The Marines deliver about 150 bags of toys, 100 boxes of food and turkeys and this year they delivered 100 blankets as well.
“Every child deserves a toy at Christmas,” said McCallum. “That’s what we believe.”
“The smiles on the kids’ faces are heartwarming,” said Rick Wiselus, Toys for Tots volunteer and board member on the Marine Corps League Charities. “The airport is wonderful to us every year. They pull together for us.”
The staff at the Grand Canyon National Park Airport sees the Marine’s mission as just another part of the service they provide to the visitors and residents of Grand Canyon.
“We are honored to help the Marines with this operation every year,” said Mike Halpin, Grand Canyon airport manager, who also served in the Marines as captain of an air wing. “This is an important event for the Havasupai and we are glad to provide support in any way we can.”
Marines from HMM-764 unload boxes
of goods for the Havasupai tribe.
Marines from HMM-764 help load food and
for the Havasupai on the CH-46E.
Ken Stanley, portraying Santa Claus for
Operation Supai this year, dons his new