STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. --
Airmen and aircraft with the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing have started their journey back home to Scotia, New York, from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, after another successful Operation Deep Freeze season.
During this season - which marks the 30th year the wing has provided support - crews completed 120 missions within Antarctica. They flew an estimated 2,300 researchers and support staff and carried about 2.7 million pounds of cargo and 135,000 gallons 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 109th Airlift Wing operates in Antarctica from October to March, when it is summer at the South Pole.
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.
Col. Michele Kilgore, who took command of the wing in October, took her first trip to the ice earlier this month, and said she was impressed by the job her Airmen do on a regular basis.
"I was able to see first-hand the amazing mission I get to be a part of now," she said. "The work the Airmen of this wing do makes me proud to be their leader, and to see them doing it in such austere conditions is just astounding."
Col. Alan Ross, the 109th vice commander, who took his last trip to the ice this season as he prepares for retirement in the coming months, said he was still impressed by the job the wing does from October to March.
"After almost two decades of being part of this mission, it still amazes me that this wing does what it does. We extend air power from our home in Scotia, New York, to literally the ends of the Earth, in this case Antarctica and the South Pole," he said.
"Each year, after flying our aircraft 11,000 miles to reach Antarctica, our Airmen set up operations on an ice shelf with no hangars or permanent facilities, perform maintenance operations while exposed to the elements, and conduct flying operations to remote locations on the harshest, most unforgiving continent in the world."
"It's been my privilege to be a part of it for so long, and I will maintain a sense of pride for Airmen and this mission long after my retirement," Ross said.
Crews won't have much time to rest though as they've already started planning for the annual Greenland mission, which begins in April.
The wing flies cargo and researchers to stations across the Greenland ice cap in support of National Science Foundation during the spring and summer months there. The missions not only support research but also provide training for Antarctic missions for new wing members.