By Maj. Guy Hayes
Alaska National Guard
CAMP DENALI, Alaska (1/28/13) - An Alaska Air National Guard member with the 176th Wing returned to Alaska in mid-January after spending 30 days in Antarctica supporting the National Science Foundation.
Master Sgt. Tyler Sutton departed Alaska in December 2012 to augment the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing and its mission of transporting people and equipment on ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft to field camps throughout the southernmost continent.
“My job was to maintain the safety equipment on the LC-130 aircraft for all the aircrew members, making sure they had all their cold weather and survival gear in case they ever needed it,” Sutton said. “We were there to support scientific research, and the LC-130 allows the Guard to perform the vital tasks required for the mission.”
In fact, according to the 109th Airlift Wing, the LC-130 is the only aircraft in the U.S. military that is capable of landing on snow and ice, which makes it the perfect fit for the Antarctic operations.
“The aircrew members would fly all support personnel, scientists, and anyone who came to help from Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo Station, Antarctica,” Sutton said. “McMurdo has about 950 people in town, with about 150 of those in the military supporting the mission during the summer.”
With summer temperatures rising in Antarctica, Sutton said, every day was an adventure, including just getting to work.
“The ice was melting near town, so we had to travel to one of the many flight lines, named Pegasus, where the surface was hard enough for the planes to take-off and land,” Sutton said. “We worked 10-hour shifts every day, and it would take a minimum of an hour and as long as three hours, depending on the weather, just to get to the flight line.”
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Sutton said. “I supported an incredible mission, and it was definitely one of the most unique trips I’ve ever been on during my career. If you ever get the opportunity, you should definitely take it.”
Officially termed Operation Deep Freeze, the annual mission is a Pacific Command responsibility organized as Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica.