STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. – After spending five months moving 2,500 people around a frozen wasteland-- and transporting a sick moonwalking retired astronaut-- the Airmen of the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing are wrapping up their 29th year supporting research in Antarctica.
The final two LC-130s and 40 Airmen who supported the mission, which runs from October to March—the Antarctic summer months-- arrive here on Wednesday, March 1.
The wing sent six LC-130s and about 500 Airmen spent five months to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, in support of United States Antarctic research efforts.
During the five month deployment the 109th Airlift Wing completed more than 150 missions within Antarctica.
They flew 2,550 researchers and support staff plus about 3 million pounds of cargo and 2 million pounds of fuel to research stations across the continent in support of the National Science Foundation.
The mission is part of Operation Deep Freeze, the military component of the U.S. Antarctic Program.
The unique capabilities of the ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft make it the only one of its kind in the U.S. military, able to land on snow and ice.
“As we end our 29th season supporting Operation Deep Freeze, I am thankful to our outstanding Airmen who deploy year after year to the other side of the Earth to perform operations on the Antarctic continent, one of the harshest and most unforgiving environments on the planet,” said Col. Alan Ross, the 109th Airlift Wing vice commander, who also served as the unit’s deployed commander in Antarctica in January.
“They, along with our Airmen at home, not only support the conduct of science in this unique environment, but also support the strategic interests of the United States by helping maintain an active and influential presence in the Antarctic,” Ross said.
Along with the routine missions of providing the military logistical support to the National Science Foundation, the wing hit the spotlight in early December 2016 when retired astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, became ill while visiting the South Pole station.
A wing LC-130 flew the 86-year old from The South Pole to McMurdo Station so he could be transported to New Zealand where he recovered.
The wing also played host to a number of military VIPs who were getting a look at the military’s Antarctic support mission.
Visitors included Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the National Guard Bureau vice chief; Air Force Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, the Air National Guard director and Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox, the 18th Air Force commander.
“These senior officers were exposed to many elements of our round the clock operations in theatre,” Ross said.
The military VIPs learned how the LC-130s conduct missions to the South Pole Station and 11 other sites, carrying people and key equipment, they learned about the ice-breaking operations conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star; and how the Navy’s Cargo Handling Battalion One and New Zealand Defense Force personnel offload ships carrying heavy supplies to McMurdo station.
They also visited the maintenance and operations centers run by Air Force personnel, Ross said.
“These distinguished visitor engagements are significant in that our senior military officers, who set policies and priorities, gain a greater understanding of the realities and challenges of operating in this environment and, therefore, will be better equipped to make informed decisions concerning the future of this operation,” Ross explained.
The 109th Airlift Wing began supporting the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic research in 1988. Since 1999, the 109th has been the sole provider of this type of airlift to U.S. Antarctic research efforts.
The 109th Airlift Wing also flies missions to Greenland in the summer months to provide support for National Science Foundation research on the Greenland ice cap and supports Canadian Forces military operations in the High Arctic.