The seasonal U.S. military mission that supports scientists and military personnel in Antarctica — Operation Deep Freeze — is well underway, the Air Force confirmed.
In August, an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, completed the first winter fly, or WinFly, mission of the 2022-23 operational season. The aircraft brought needed equipment and resources to the National Science Foundation’s United States Antarctic Program, which is located at McMurdo Station, the largest community in Antarctica.
“The aircraft delivered approximately 184 people and 139K pounds of cargo,” Capt. Brandon Romano, a spokesperson for Pacific Air Forces, told Military Times. “It also returned 22 people and 75K pounds of cargo to Christchurch, New Zealand.”
Christchurch Airport, which acts as the main gateway to reaching Antarctica, tweeted last week that a C-17 was due to land there in the coming days in order to take people and machinery “to the ice.”
The Department of Defense provides supplies and assists in moving personnel to and from the southernmost continent through its Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica, according to a Pacific Air Forces release.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica is resuming ‘normal’ operations,” Romano added. “This means more cargo will be transported via more flights than last year.”
Romano also said that for the first time since 2019, with help from the Army’s 7th Transportation Battalion, JTF-SFA is using a floating, portable system for offloading cargo when a traditional port is unavailable.
Operation Deep Freeze, which dates back to 1955, has often involved support elements from across the Air Force, Navy, Army and Coast Guard. The unique mission is considered to be difficult even by those involved because of the harsh temperature and geographic remoteness.
“Something you learn being out there on the ice for any amount of time, is that things can go very wrong, very quickly,” Maj. Matthew Wimmer, a 56th Operations Group flight surgeon, said in a March statement.
“As a physician, I learned a lot about medical evacuations in unregulated areas,” he added. “The weather is always a factor when determining the course of action we take. Due to the remoteness of the deployment, it’s all on our team … to stabilize the patient, decide on medical procedures and validate them for transfer.”
At the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, another Antarctic research hub, temperatures this time of year can reach minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit, the release said.
Despite the conditions, the military’s annual efforts to support the teams in one of the coldest and most forbidding parts of the globe are continuing.
“The 2022-2023 ODF season is another opportunity to demonstrate our military dedication, ingenuity and labor in support of the Antarctic mission,” Lt. Col. Matthew Johnson, JTF-SFA acting deputy commander, said in the release.
Romano said two additional WinFly missions are scheduled to take more people and cargo to McMurdo Station over the course of several days. He added that the current mission will run through October, while the operation’s season will likely run through the end of July 2023.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media