Wednesday, September 30, 2009

McChord Airmen head for 'the ice' as Operation Deep Freeze season kicks off

by Staff Sgt. Eric Burks, 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (AFNS) -- Thirty-seven McChord Air Force Base Airmen left Sept. 24 in a C-17 Globemaster III loaded with more than 90,000 pounds of cargo destined for Antarctica to begin another season of Operation Deep Freeze.

The 2009-2010 season of Operation Deep Freeze, the Defense Department's support of the U.S. Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation, officially kicks off Sept. 26 and will be one of the most robust to date, as more than 60 missions are projected.

"The number of C-17 missions to Antarctica will increase this season by approximately 25 percent as compared to last season when work on the Pegasus Ice Runway necessitated a brief mission pause," said Lt. Col. Walt Clark, the lead Operation Deep Freeze planner at 13th Air Force from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

The missions will build upon August's successful winter fly-in, and a historic 2008-2009 season that included the first-ever night-vision goggle landing on the Antarctic continent and groundbreaking high-altitude airdrops to remote areas such as the Antarctic Gamburtsev Mountain Province.

This season also marks the 10th year C-17s have supported the mission. The first McChord AFB C-17 touched down on the ice runway outside McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Oct. 15, 1999. In previous missions from McChord AFB , Antarctic flights were completed in the C-141 Starlifter, which had supported Deep Freeze operations since 1966.

"The C-17 has revolutionized how we do business down there," said Lt. Col. Robert Wellington, the 62nd Operations Group deputy commander and 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander, working for Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica. "We can better satisfy user requirements. We're leaner, more efficient and use fewer resources.

"But we couldn't do that without the great teamwork of the 446th and 62nd airlift wings and their tenant units," said Colonel Wellington, an Operation Deep Freeze veteran who has flown multiple missions during previous seasons.

As the new 304th EAS commander, the colonel aims to continue the McChord AFB tradition of support to the program, both on and off "the ice."

"Because we have such great Airmen involved, operations really take care of themselves. The biggest challenge will be continuing the strong relationships my predecessor established, both within the program and in the community," Colonel Wellington said.

The first few flights into McMurdo Station, Antarctica, will carry support personnel, after those initial flights they will unload supplies required for McMurdo's scientific research mission, said Lt. Col. J.W. Smith, the 313th Airlift Squadron assistant operations officer and 304th EAS directing officer.

"We're ramping up for the beginning of the Antarctic exploration season," Colonel Smith said. "We'll be bringing McMurdo out of winter hibernation."

Deep Freeze is unlike any other U.S. military operation -- it's possibly the military's most difficult peacetime mission due to the harsh Antarctic environment, according to 13th Air Force officials. The U.S. military is uniquely equipped and trained to operate in such an austere environment and has therefore provided support to the U.S. Antarctic Program since 1955.

Airlift for Operation Deep Freeze involves active-duty and Reserve C-17 support from McChord AFB and New York Air National Guard LC-130 Hercules aircraft from Stratton Air National Guard Base, Scotia, N.Y.