Operation Nava-Snow

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name: Operation Nava-Snow
Location: Arizona and New Mexico
Date: December 19–21, 1961
Emergency: Blizzards blocked roads on a Navajo Indian reservation with deep snow, threatening the people and livestock with starvation.
Organizations: 433d Troop Carrier Wing and 4900th Air Base Group
Airlifted: 80 tons of food and livestock feed.
Aircraft Used: C–47 (two) and C–119 (two)

Severe winter storms during mid-December covered the Navajo Indian reservation in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico under deep snow that buried pastures and blocked roads. Snowbound Indians and isolated livestock faced malnutrition and starvation. On December 17, the Fourth Army headquarters called the Fourth Air Force Reserve Region headquarters at Randolph AFB, Texas, for an emergency airlift of food to Navajo families and feed to their herds in the Window Rock area of Arizona. This was not the first time that U.S. military aircraft had been called to the reservation for food deliveries. In January 1932, Army aircraft had dropped food bundles to snowbound and starving Navajos.

The Fourth Air Force Reserve Region immediately contacted the 4900th Air Base Group at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, for assistance. Bad weather on December 18 forced the cancellation of the first missions of Operation Nava-Snow. On December 19, two Kirtland AFB C–47s joined with two C–119 airplanes of the 433d Troop Carrier Wing from Kelly AFB, Texas, to begin the airlift, which continued through December 21.

During the three days, the four cargo aircraft flew 31 sorties, consuming 80 flying hours and dropping 80 tons of food packages and bales of hay. Using Kirtland AFB as a staging area, two 433d Troop Carrier Wing planes hauled 58 tons of emergency cargo in 11 sorties to the Window Rock area. By December 21, improved weather allowed surface transportation routes to reopen and the emergency airlift ended.

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