|An LC-130 assigned to the 109th Airlift Wing leaves Stratton Air National Guard Base for Antarctica on Oct. 18, 2013. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Willie Gizara/Released)|
By Tech Sgt. Catharine Schmidt, 109th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard
SCOTIA, N.Y. - The 109th Airlift Wing kicked off its 26th season in support of Operation Deep Freeze on Oct. 18 as Airmen and LC-130 Hercules aircraft began their journey to the South Pole.
Despite the obstacles each season brings with the extreme weather conditions in Antarctica, crews are always prepared to complete the missions they have set out to do in support of the National Science Foundation.
A total of six ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft will be deployed this year from October to February, the typical on-continent Antarctic flying season.
These aircraft will support the National Science Foundation's research, moving supplies and people to field camps across the continent and to the South Pole station.
About 120 Air National Guard members will be deployed at any one time to Operation Deep Freeze, with a total of about 700 personnel rotations occurring over the entire season.
"We fully expect to meet all the mission requirements NSF sets forth for us," said Maj. Steven Slosek, a navigator who will be part of this year's ODF season, his fifth season on the ice. "It's an extremely remote and austere environment, but the best part about being a navigator in Antarctica is the sense of adventure."
Col. Shawn Clouthier, 109th AW commander, said he is confident the Wing will once again provide outstanding support, no matter what the obstacles.
"Due to fiscal constraints we have been tasked with fewer missions for this Antarctic season,” he said. "However, the mission set is still one of the most demanding in the Air National Guard and the Air Force. Through all of the budget restrictions one constant remains, the dedicated and professional men and women of the 109th will serve the National Science Foundation in the outstanding manner to which they have become accustomed."
After the resolution of the government shutdown Thursday, the 109th quickly geared back up to send down just as many aircraft as in previous seasons, and nearly the same number of personnel. As the season continues, additional guidance from the NSF will determine if the lowered mission tasking will continue.
The unit boasts the U.S. military's only ski-equipped aircraft, which has been supporting the NFS's South Pole research since 1988. Since 1999, the unit has been the sole provider of this type of airlift to the NSF and U.S. Antarctic research efforts.
In 1999 a crew from the 109th Airlift Wing made a daring rescue of Dr. Jerri Nielsen, a staff member at the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole who was suffering from breast cancer. An LC-130 from the wing landed in bitter cold, far earlier in the season than they normally fly, to retrieve the doctor.
In 2008, another 109th LC-130 rescued an Australian researcher who had broken his leg in an accident and flew him to Hobart, Australia, from Antarctica.