As a cold, dark winter approaches Antarctica, the 2012-13 season of Operation Deep Freeze comes to an end. A team of Joint Base Lewis-McChord Airmen, from both the 446th and 62nd Airlift wings, flew the last mission to the frozen white continent Feb. 26 before returning home to the Evergreen State March 1.
Since the season began August 2012, McChord Field Airmen have successfully moved nearly 1,700 passengers and more than 2.1 million pounds of cargo from Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, requiring 42 C-17 Globemaster III missions and almost 450 flying hours.
While in New Zealand, the McChord Airmen join the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squardon for the operation. An average of 14 Reservists participated in each of the five rotations supporting ODF. On every rotation of the main season, a Reservist filled the position of director of operations, chief loadmaster and ramp coordinator.
Flying the C-17 missions is the 446th AWs role in the operation. The U.S. military started ODF to support the National Science Foundations Antarctic Program with science and research activities in Antarctica. This season, the overall number of C-17 missions was reduced compared to recent years during a seven-week operational pause to save costs in December and January, said Chief Master Sgt. Jim Masura, 446th Operations Group standardization evaluation loadmaster. Windstorms liquefied the runway, prohibiting operations until Feb. 11 when runways returned to a safe condition for C-17 landings.
We conducted the first ever C-17 (landing) on an 8,000 by 90-foot ice runway, said Lt. Col. Brent Keenan, commander of the 304th EAS. The runway is normally 10,000 feet long and 220 feet wide plus a 1,000-foot overrun.
Teams from McMurdo worked diligently to rebuild the ice runway because 90 feet is the minimum width for a safe landing.
The trickiest part was making sure we didnt venture off the runway and sink, said Senior Master Sgt. Terry Philon, a standardization evaluation loadmaster with the Reserve 313th Airlift Squadron who has nearly 40 missions to Antarctica. We had to have people looking out the doors on each side of the airplane so they could see the flags.
Airmen successfully conducted six landings and takeoffs on this runway before it was returned to its normal dimensions Feb. 24.
Special thanks and appreciation go to the McMurdo airfield team who, despite the odds Mother Nature stacked against them, were able to construct a new and safe reduced runway that allowed NSF sustainment operations to resume, Keenan said.
Landing on the shrunken runway wasnt the only success of the season. On Oct. 14, McChord Airmen flew the 500th accident-free C-17 mission to Antarctica.
They also flew seven successful medical evacuations throughout the season including one emergency evacuation. McChord crews also supported international Antarctic Programs by moving South Korean and Italian personnel to the continent.
The interaction between JTF-SFA (Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica), USAP (U.S. Antarctic Program), ANG, AFRC, and RNZAF (Royal New Zealand Air Force) represent a fantastic and total force effort by all involved with the 304th EAS, Keenan said.
McChord Field has participated in ODF since 1983, first 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.