ANTARCTICA – Antarctica appears to be a frozen wasteland of endless white. While this is what many perceive, the truth is there is a vast array of life and wonder on this continent.
Operation Deep Freeze, a Department of Defense effort, assists the National Science Foundation in its effort to explore and research the continent and all its mysteries. Members of the Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy, Army and National Guard carry out the annual operation under Joint Task Force - Support Forces Antarctica led by Pacific Air Forces.
Recently, members of the 189th Maintenance Group, Arkansas National Guard, were asked to assist the NSF. Countries across the world participate in the research and study effort, and members of the Guard supported them all.
“We supported the 109th Air Guard specifically,” said Staff Sgt. Timothy Forbes, a 189th MXG crew chief. “They were there in support of the United States Antarctic Program. USAP was created and funded by the National Science Foundation. The Air Force took over the mission from the Navy in the early ’90s, I believe. Most of the 109th funding (aircraft, ski packages, engine upgrades and mods, AGR billets, etc.) is funded through this program.”
Forbes said the goal is to support air movement of whatever the NSF needs. During their tour, they moved scientists to remote locations and later brought them fuel and food and a new satellite to stream millions of gigabytes of data daily, then conducted a medical evacuation of scientists back to New Zealand.
“We not only supported the NSF but all countries such as New Zealand, Italy and South Korea,” said Senior Airman Cameron McNulty, a 189th MXG crew chief. “We worked with the 109th Airlift Wing (New York National Guard), providing maintenance support to their LC-130s. The United States is the only country that has skis installed on its C-130 aircraft. This is very important because you must have skis to land at the South Pole station and smaller camps around the continent. There are no real runways anywhere.”
The mission continues through the year, and the planes adjust to accommodate the changing weather and ground around them. McNulty said during the summer, wheeled aircraft cannot take off or land, stranding the other countries on the ice. The Air National Guard steps in at this point, using their specialized aircraft to provide support, such as emergency medevac assistance and supply drops.
“These medevacs, unfortunately, are not uncommon since there isn’t a fully functioning hospital anywhere on the whole continent,” McNulty said.
While McNulty was in Antarctica, a South Korean scientist developed appendicitis. Because of the slushy conditions, wheeled aircraft were unable to assist with a medical evacuation.
“The scientist was brought to us from several miles away,” he said. “The problem was most of our planes returned to New Zealand already and we had one grounded aircraft awaiting parts. The second of the two planes still there canceled its mission that morning because the skis wouldn’t extend. We did some troubleshooting and fixed the issue, getting the skis fully operational in time for the aircrew to take the scientist to Christchurch for the medical care he needed.”
McNulty said missions like this are vital to learn more about the world, its past and future. Operation Deep Freeze ensures the mission stays on course.
“This was one of the greatest experiences of my life and is something I’ll be able to tell my kids and grandkids someday,” McNulty said. “Missions like this are very important. We learn so much from the hidden things in this world like where we’ve been and where we’re going.”