Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Logistical support to Antarctic science efforts wraps up

by Tech. Sgt. Kerry Jackson, 13th Air Force Public Affairs

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (AFNS) -- American servicemembers concluded the 2009-2010 Operation Deep Freeze season Feb. 24 after six months of logistical support to the U.S. Antarctic Program and National Science Foundation.

The season began with a winter flying period that started Aug. 16, delivering advance teams and cargo to New Zealand and Antarctica in preparation for the main season start in September.

Gen. Gary North, the Pacific Air Forces commander here, commended the Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica team.

"I couldn't be more proud of our Air Force's total force effort that supports the National Science Foundation mission in the Antarctic," General North said. "I was fortunate enough to see these operations firsthand this season and the dedication of the men and women of our Air Force who have been executing the airlift into and throughout the Antarctic since 1975. The Airmen of the 62nd, 446th and 109th airlift wings are true professionals, and I left the 'ice' truly impressed by their dedication to this important mission.

"(Visiting Antarctica) also allowed me to see firsthand the command and control efforts of the 13th Air Force as the commander, Lt. Gen. Herbert J. "Hawk" Carlisle, and his staff serve as the Joint Forces commander and command element for the Operation Deep Freeze mission," the general said.

The JTF SFA team is composed of active, Guard and Reserve servicemembers from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard. The team supported the NSF and USAP by providing C-17 Globemaster III strategic inter-theater airlift, LC-130 Hercules airlift and air-drop support, aeromedical evacuation support, emergency response, sealift, seaport access, bulk-fuel supply, port-cargo handling, and transportation requirements.

"This was my first year leading the joint task force, and everything I had heard about the dedication of our joint team proved to be completely accurate," said General Carlisle who serves as both the 13th Air Force and JTF SFA commander. "We're talking about an operating environment that is quite possibly the most challenging in the world, yet our folks get the mission done safely and effectively for our partners in the NSF and USAP."

To provide this logistical support, JTF SFA members employed C-17s from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., LC-130s from Stratton Air National Guard Base, N.Y., and both a tanker and chartered container ship from the Military Sealift Command, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

During the 2009-2010 season, LC-130 aircrews from the 109th AW at Stratton ANGB flew 330 on-continent missions, transporting thousands of passengers and 8.1 million pounds of cargo and fuel from the main U.S. base at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, to the South Pole and other research outposts on the continent.

Additionally, C-17 aircrews from the 62nd and 446th airlift wings at JB McChord flew 60 missions between Christchurch, New Zealand, and McMurdo Station transporting more than 5,300 passengers and nearly 4.5 million pounds of cargo. They did this while also demonstrating an on-time, on-target South Pole airdrop capability.

The 2009-2010 Operation Deep Freeze season was one of the safest and most productive on record for the joint task force, said Col. Paul Sheppard, the JTF SFA deputy commander here.

"The Defense Department's support of NSF on land, sea, and air was superb, and all major U.S. science objectives, such as the ice core drilling at (Western Antarctic Ice Sheet)-Divide, were accomplished," Colonel Sheppard said.

The 2009-2010 Operation Deep Freeze season experienced milestones, to include operating off a single-location runway at Pegasus Field, Colonel Sheppard said. The joint task force established a sea ice runway for wheeled aircraft and a packed-snow ski way for aircraft with skis at the field, despite the most unusual El Nino-induced weather since 2001.

Additionally, C-17 aircrews further refined their ability to land at McMurdo Station in total darkness using night-vision goggles. This maturing capability opens up new possibilities for an early start in upcoming seasons, said Lt. Col. Ed Vaughan, the interim director of JTF SFA joint operations here.

Season participants also saw Navy ship operations, bolstered by a contracted icebreaker, delivering cargo and fuel in record time, Colonel Vaughan said.

"With primary cargo offloading performed by the Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1, the season was remarkable, with no injuries whatsoever and completion well ahead of schedule," Colonel Vaughan said.

LC-130s provided airlift for the initial opening of the Australian Antarctic Division's Camp Casey, flying the first passengers to this remote Antarctic station for the season. In addition, Air Mobility Command officials provided a pilot from the Air Force Reserve, who flew along as an instructor and expert guide for the first ice landing of a Boeing 757 operated by Antarctica New Zealand members.

"One of the amazing second order effects here is that Deep Freeze permits our military members to work in an established joint, interagency, and international environment," Colonel Vaughan said.

"Participants use what they learn in Antarctica in operations around the globe and "conversely, they can apply the lessons gleaned in other theaters when they later return to Antarctica," he said. "This iterative learning contributes to the ultimate success of this and other missions."