Operation Deep Freeze: maintaining the mission

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jessica Roles
  • 189th Airlift Wing

The air is crisp and cold, the sun providing little to no warmth, Antarctica gives the portrayal of a frozen wasteland with endless white. While this is what many perceive, the truth is that there is a vast array of life and wonder on this continent. Operation Deep Freeze, a support effort conducted by the Department of Defense 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 were called upon to assist with the efforts of the NSF. Countries across the world participate in the research and study effort and our Guardsmen provided support to 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 90's I believe. Most of the 109th funding (aircraft, ski packages, engine upgrades and mods, AGR billets, etc.) is funded through this program.”

Forbes also explained that the overarching goal is to support air movement of whatever the NSF needs, where ever they need it. During their tour, they moved scientists to their remote locations and later brought them fuel and food, a new satellite to stream millions of gigabytes of data daily, and then MEDEVAC’d 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, 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 explained that during the summer months, when the weather “warms up,” the 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 at this time.

“These MEDEVACS, unfortunately, are not uncommon since there isn’t a fully functioning hospital anywhere on the whole continent,” McNulty said.

During his time in Antarctica, McNulty experienced the vital role he was brought down to fulfill. While he was down there, a South Korean scientist developed appendicitis. Because of the slushy conditions, wheeled aircraft were unable to assist with a medical evacuation. Many LC-130s returned to New Zealand and only two were left, in need of repair. Bringing the patient to them via helicopter, McNulty and another Airman worked tirelessly to ensure the aircraft was able to fly the patient to a medical facility.

“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 explained that missions like this are very important to accomplish a greater knowledge of the world, its past, and its future. Many types of research are accomplished in Antarctica. From drilling into the ice for core samples and understanding our past to getting a look at the future with a clear view of space, the research possibilities and information to learn are boundless. Antarctica is a primitive, untouched land rich in scientific information. Operation Deep Freeze ensures scientists, pilots, maintainers, and other vital positions are filled and the mission stays on the course of success.

“Overall, 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.”