McChord Airmen confront harsh Antarctic summer

By Sandra Pishner on August 24, 2012

On one of the hottest days of the year in Washington, Airmen from McChord Field are headed to one of the coolest places - Antarctica.

Eleven 446th Airlift Wing Reservists, 23 active-duty 62nd AW Airmen, and one Airman each from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron and 627th Logistics Readiness Squadron, departed Aug. 16 in support of Operation Deep Freeze's winter fly-in. The WinFly phase of ODF delivers advance teams and cargo for the upcoming main season of the National Science Foundation's U.S. Antarctic program.

The McChord Field Airmen traveled to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, before they arrived Saturday at Christchurch, New Zealand to become the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. The first scheduled flight to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, was Monday's WinFly, with subsequent flights Tuesday and Thursday.

Landing 15 miles from McMurdo on the ice runway known as Pegasus, the C-17s carry in scientists and support personnel to start early pre-summer projects, to augment maintenance personnel, and to prepare skiways and ice runways at McMurdo.

Christchurch is the starting point for forward deployment to McMurdo Station. ODF is unlike any other U.S. military operation. It is one of the military's most difficult peacetime missions due to the harsh Antarctic environment.

"Weather and fuel planning are the primary challenges of flying ODF missions," said Lt. Col. Bill Eberhardt, 728th Airlift Squadron and last season's 304th EAS commander. "When you go down there to McMurdo or airdrop on the South Pole, there's only one runway within about 2,200 miles you can land on. So you have issues with mission planning; if you lose an engine or something like that you don't have a lot of options."

ODF is a unique U.S. military peacetime operation during which Airmen based out of Christchurch, New Zealand, work in the harsh Antarctic environment.

Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica, led by Pacific Air Forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, is scheduled to begin the ODF main season at the end of September.

ODF is divided into three seasons, WinFly, Main Body and Winter. It involves active duty and Reserve C-17 support from McChord, LC-130 support from the New York Air National Guard and other aircraft necessary to support the mission; U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers and the U.S. Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One to provide critical port services at McMurdo Station.

McChord Field has participated in ODF since 1983 using the C-141B Starlifter. The 446th AW got involved in 1995. The first C-17 trial for use to support ODF was Oct. 15, 1999.