U.S. Air Force
by Maj. Jonathan Hannon
Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica
Following the redeployment of the last two C-17 Globemaster IIIs to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y., the personnel participating in the 2011-2012 edition of Operation Deep Freeze can lay claim to yet another successful and history-making season.
ODF is the U.S. military’s support to science and research activities conducted by the U.S. Antarctic Program. ODF is a joint, inter-agency operation under the direction of the National Science Foundation and led by Lt Gen Ted Kresge, Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica commander.
“Deep Freeze is one of our toughest missions, requiring strong leadership and precise teamwork by the deployed joint force on the ice in Antarctica and at Christchurch, New Zealand. Year after year, the JTF-SFA proves it can excel and successfully operate in any environment and take on any challenge,” said Lt. Gen. Kresge. “I’m rarely surprised at the extraordinary accomplishments of this team, but this year is truly an exception and I’m beyond proud of all the hard work this team has done for the National Science Foundation.”
During the 2011-2012 season, six ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft from the 109th Airlift Wing, Stratton Air National Guard Base, N.Y. flew 359 missions between McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and 18 inland Antarctic destinations, transporting more than seven million pounds of cargo and fuel and more than 1,600 passengers. In addition, C-17A aircraft from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord flew 72 inter-continental missions between New Zealand and McMurdo Station, carrying over six million pounds of cargo and more than 5,000 passengers.
Tasked with providing a major component of logistical support to many Antarctic locations, JTF-SFA aircraft also responded to requests for assistance on multiple occasions in support of the NSF and New Zealand Rescue Coordination Center.
On June 28, for the first time in history, a C-17 aircraft performed an operational mid-winter landing at McMurdo Station with the aid of night vision goggles. Having to navigate around massive ash clouds from volcanic activity in Chile and facing -42° F temperatures in McMurdo, the crew, in cooperation with a Pacific Air Forces Critical Care Air Transport Team, performed an evacuation of a critically-ill program participant to New Zealand.
In August during winter fly-in missions, JTF-SFA was instrumental in coming to the aid of a seriously-ill program participant at the US Amundsen-Scott South Pole station where air temperatures below -60° F prohibited any aircraft landings. The C-17 airdropped two bundles of urgently-needed medical supplies.
On Dec. 15, the Russian fishing trawler Sparta became stranded in heavy sea ice and struck a submerged iceberg, tearing a hole in its hull. An LC-130 aircraft was called upon to provide aerial reconnaissance of and communication links to the vessel, allowing for a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 aircraft to later airdrop three parcels on an ice floe next to the ailing ship. Less than a month later, seven crew members severely injured in a fire aboard the South Korean-flagged fishing vessel Jeong Woo 2 were transported to McMurdo Station, where they were triaged and treated by U.S. Air Force and contracted medical personnel, and airlifted to Christchurch via an LC-130 aircraft.
Throughout the season, C-17 and LC-130 aircraft carried participants from the Australian, Italian, New Zealand, and South Korean Antarctic programs under scientific collaborative agreements with the NSF.
Transportation was also provided to such dignitaries as the Prime Minister of Norway, King of Malaysia, U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, Director of the National Science Foundation, the commanders of U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command, and a Congressional delegation, among others.
Maritime activities in Antarctica began in January with the arrival of the NSF-contracted Russian icebreaker, Vladimir Ignatyuk. The icebreaker cut through 12 miles of ice in preparation for the arrival of the Military Sealift Command-contracted fuel tanker, Maersk Peary, on Jan. 27. The Peary off-loaded more than 6.75 million gallons of fuel and departed McMurdo Station on Feb. 2.
Following the departure of the Peary, the MSC-contracted MV Green Wave arrived McMurdo on Feb. 14, carrying over 300 units of USAP cargo representing the program’s annual food, parts and other supplies. Peary also carried the 331st Transportation Company’s Modular Causeway System. Unusual winter conditions resulted in McMurdo’s seasonal ice pier being insufficient for supporting cargo operations (it was sound enough to allow fuel off-load to proceed normally). The ice pier situation resulted in an urgent request by NSF for assistance through U.S. Transportation Command, answered by the U.S. Army.
True to their motto “causeway or no way”, 42 soldiers assembled the causeway in challenging weather conditions. It was the first construction of its type in extreme cold-weather and icing and permitted the off-load of nearly seven million pounds of cargo and a backload of more than 8.7 million pounds of retrograde cargo. This substantial cargo transfer was assisted by the Navy Cargo Handling Battalion-One sailors from Williamsburg, Va., who worked around-the-clock to complete the cargo transfer in just eight days while battling sub-freezing temperatures and sustained Antarctic winds.
“You cannot say enough about the dedication of these Soldiers and Sailors. Their actions speak volumes about their character and their caliber,” said Gen Kresge. “Really, it’s been a remarkable season–from beginning to end. The whole JTF-SFA team displayed unprecedented flexibility in accomplishing the mission. After two years with JTF-SFA, I’ve certainly learned there are no limits to what this joint force can do.”
For 54 years the NSF has depended on the skills and unique abilities of Airmen, Soldiers, and Sailors to ensure safe delivery of life-sustaining fuel and cargo for research scientists and residents in Antarctica. The 2012-2013 ODF season will begin in August 2012 or as directed by the NSF.