109th AW aircraft, airmen return home from Antarctica

STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. -- The 109th Airlift Wing’s 29th season supporting Operation Deep Freeze has come to an end – six LC-130s and about 500 Airmen spent five months on the southern-most continent at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, in support of United States Antarctic research efforts.

The New York Air National Guard unit completed more than 150 missions within Antarctica by flying an estimated 2,550 researchers and support staff plus about 3 million pounds of cargo and 2 million pounds of fuel to research stations across the continent. Operation Deep Freeze, the military component of the U.S. Antarctic Program, is managed by the National Science Foundation. The unique capabilities of the ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft make it the only one of its kind in the U.S. military, able to land on snow and ice.

“As we end our 29th season supporting Operation Deep Freeze, I am thankful to our outstanding Airmen who deploy year after year to the other side of the Earth to perform operations on the Antarctic continent, one of the harshest and most unforgiving environments on the planet,” said Col. Alan Ross, 109th AW vice commander, who also served as the unit’s deployed commander in Antarctica in January. “They, along with our Airmen at home, not only support the conduct of science in this unique environment, but also support the strategic interests of the United States by helping maintain an active and influential presence in the Antarctic.”

Along with the routine missions of providing the military logistical support to the National Science Foundation, the NSF agreed to provide a humanitarian medication evacuation flight for retired U.S. astronaut Buzz Aldrin after he became ill while visiting as a private tourist in early December. An aircrew with the 109th Airlift Wing flew Aldrin from the South Pole to McMurdo Station.

Various military distinguished visitors also had the opportunity to see those supporting Operation Deep Freeze in action throughout the season. Visitors included Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, National Guard Bureau vice chief; Air Force Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, Air National Guard director; Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox, 18th Air Force commander; Navy Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, Pacific Command director of operations; and Coast Guard Rear Adm. Linda L. Fagan, U.S. Coast Guard deputy commandant for Operations, Policy & Capabilities.

“These senior officers were exposed to many elements of our round-the-clock operations in theatre, including intercontinental flights between New Zealand and Antarctica utilizing both LC-130 and C-17 aircraft; on-continent missions utilizing the ski-equipped LC-130 for missions to South Pole Station and 11 other deep field sites; ice breaking operations by the Coast Guard's heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star; cargo handling operations during offload of the Ocean Giant merchant cargo ship by Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One and New Zealand Defense Force personnel; visits with National Science Foundation and New Zealand representatives; visits in and around McMurdo Station to observe scientific and infrastructure activities; and most importantly, visits to the various shops that are manned by our Airmen supporting this operation, including ,Maintenance, Operations and Support personnel,” Ross said.

“These distinguished visitor engagements are significant in that our senior military officers, who set policies and priorities, gain a greater understanding of the realities and challenges of operating in this environment and, therefore, will be better equipped to make informed decisions concerning the future of this operation,” he said.

The 109th AW has been supporting the NSF'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.