McChord Airmen in New Zealand during earthquake

By Master Sgt. Jake Chappelle on February 22, 2011

MCCHORD FIELD, Wash.- About 35 McChord Airmen, 15 of them Reservists from the 446th Airlift Wing, are in Christchurch, New Zealand where a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit Feb. 22.

Based in Christchurch with their C-17 Globemaster III to support Operation Deep Freeze, the Airmen are all accounted for and uninjured. Likewise, the C-17 escaped any damage, although today's mission has been delayed.

"We had people in the hotel, at the airport, downtown, at stores when the earthquake hit," said Chief Master Sgt. James Masura, 446th Operations Group and currently deployed to Christchurch.

"The airport has power, so we have some of our folks there powering up their computers, checking the news and just standing by," the chief said.

According to Col. Lane Seaholm, 446th AW vice commander, the Airmen from McChord are currently waiting for instruction from higher headquarters as to what they'll be doing next.

"We're ready and willing to provide any assistance requested of us by higher headquarters. We had a mission set for today to carry 40 people and nine pallets in support of Operation Deep Freeze, but that's on hold," Colonel Seaholm said by phone from Christchurch.

Colonel Seaholm said that he's never been through an earthquake this big.

"It's quite an emotional event," he said. "Most everyone here has at least touched based with their families back home to let them know we're all okay."

Operation Deep Freeze is an annual operation that supports the U.S. Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation's research at sites throughout the Antarctic continent. The Joint Task Force - Support Forces Antarctica operation is led by 13th Air Force and includes strategic inter-theater airlift, tactical deep-field support, aeromedical evacuation support, search and rescue response, sealift, seaport access, bulk fuel supply, port cargo handling and transportation requirements.