Airmen take on mission at South Pole Station

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Catharine Schmidt
  • 109th AW Public Affairs
The 109th Airlift Wing recently completed its 28th season supporting the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Antarctica as part of Operation Deep Freeze, the U.S. military's logistical support of the NSF-managed U.S. Antarctic program, by transporting people and cargo to various locations throughout Antarctica. This year, however, three Airmen completed a new mission in Antarctica, not at NSF's McMurdo Station where the rest of the Airmen are based at throughout the season, rather out of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, where they provided support for the newly established South Pole Retrograde Initiative (SPRI).

Tech. Sgts. Justin Carkner, Caleb Brumleve and Adam Myers were handpicked for the task of building and inspecting pallets of excess and obsolete materials currently stored at the South Pole.

Those unneeded items will be airlifted out later this year to McMurdo and eventually taken off the continent by sea.

The team was given a goal of building 70 pallets in 12 days; they built 73 in 11 days.

Carkner is assigned to the 109th Logistics Readiness Squadron's Air Transportation Operations section, the section that received the tasking, and has deployed to McMurdo Station as a joint inspector in previous years.  Brumleve, who works with the 109th LRS fuels section, and Myers, who is a firefighter with the 109th Fire Department, were brought on the team as augmentees; neither had ever built a pallet or been to Antarctica.

"The first pallet we built was used as a training aid," Carkner said. Carkner trained Brumleve and Myers along with two civilians with the NSF who helped out as needed. The team took the first few days to get acclimated to not only the process of completing the job they were sent to do, but also to the harsh environment.  Not only are the temperatures well below zero, the station sits at over 9,000 feet of elevation.

"After the first day of work we all said the same thing - the most simple of tasks seemed difficult," Carkner said. "Just by netting the cargo our arms hurt. We chalked it up to not getting the oxygen we normally get so the recovery isn't the same. ... Back home it's a simple task of building a pallet, it was much more strenuous (than at home)."

The team went toward the end of the season, in late January, to have the retrocargo ready to be airlifted at the beginning of next season, when the 109th's LC-130s are already flying missions to the South Pole.

"The pallets will sit on the snow berm over the winter, and when the season starts, they'll start pulling out the cargo we built this year, and it will be a continuous cycle," Carkner said.

Once they had their process streamlined and each had their own task, the pallets they built in their 10-hour work days increased from seven to 10. On Day 11, the team headed back to McMurdo.

All agreed that the new mission is a tremendous opportunity for the 109th to continue demonstrating the wing's value to the U.S. Antarctic Program.

Brumleve said this mission is a great way to retain people who normally don't get to support the unique missions the wing is known for.

"When I first joined, what attracted me to this base was the missions that we do," Brumleve said. "Unfortunately the career field that I held, we don't have a hand in it. ... This is a great opportunity to get a chance to be part of it."

Carkner and Myers said this is a great way to build on the unit's relationship with the NSF and the people working at the Pole.

"It helps the people at the South Pole Station get to know us," Carkner said. "Having a military presence living among the 150-200 people who live at the station, this was an eye opener for them. ... We're not just there anymore flying people and supplies; now there's a military presence working among them every day."

The team agreed that the overall experience was a great one.

"The Aerial Port is a great group, and I learned a lot on the trip," Myers said.

"It was a great experience," Brumleve said. "I would go back again and do it, but at the same time if I go back that means someone else isn't getting the opportunity. It's great that the leadership was willing to share (this mission) - we need more people working together."

Leaders within the 109th Mission Support Group said the team did an outstanding job at completing this first mission.

"As (air transportation) we go anywhere, anytime, to get the mission accomplished," said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Mann, 109th ATO superintendent. "Deploying members to the South Pole Station just goes to show what we are capable of doing, from doing a site survey in 2015, to having boots on the ice in 2016 building cargo, shows the dedication our members have to getting the job done."

"Chief Mann and team did a lot of planning and coordination with NSF leading up to this first season of support for the South Pole Retrograde Initiative, and it paid off," said Lt. Col. Tammy Street, 109th LRS commander. "From all reports, our team on the ground surpassed all expectations.  The lessons learned from this successful first trip will form the groundwork to plan for future seasons of this multiyear effort. I'm proud of our team's hard work in the harsh Antarctic climate, their flexibility, and their outstanding results!"

"We're proud that the 109th AW is able to support polar research in dynamic ways that demonstrates our commitment to meeting programmatic needs of the National Science Foundation," said Col. Jeffrey Hedges, 109th MSG commander. "The effort by this select team of Airmen exceeded all expectations and highlights the diverse capability that our wing offers."