McMURDO STATION, Antarctica – When December rolls around all eyes are traditionally focused on the North Pole. That was not the case this year however, for four members of the 263rd Combat Communications Squadron, who spent the last month of 2018 focused on the South Pole of Antarctica and Operation Deep Freeze.
Operation Deep Freeze (ODF) is a Joint Task Force mission that provides air, land and sea support to the National Science Foundation, located at McMurdo Station; a mere 850 miles north of the South Pole. The Airmen of the 263rd Combat Communications Squadron spent over two weeks in the Arctic weather installing and validating satellite communications.
"Essentially, this was a proof of concept to determine if combat communicators can provide local, temporary services to increase the network data rate via our tactical satellite terminals," said Master Sgt. Chris Farnsworth, a communications technician with the 263rd Combat Communications Squadron. "Our role was to deploy a four-man team to install and validate isolated SATCOM capabilities at Williams Field (the airport for McMurdo Station) while simultaneously developing processes for continued mission support through 2021."
Communication is no small matter with Antarctica being an isolated continent at the bottom of the world. Networks will be slow, and all communication must correspond with military partners in places like Japan and Hawaii. This makes speaking to friends and family back home more difficult than in most other deployed locations.
"While 'On the Ice' we were limited to an Iridium, phone cards, basic low-rate email, and a single pager (all aspects a successful mission on our end could rectify). Likewise, access to basic consumable material often associated with combat communications was limited," said Farnsworth.
Outside of communication issues, December is the time of year when the Earth's Southern Hemisphere experiences summer. For Antarctica that means 24/7 sunlight for a couple of weeks, making work hours extremely flexible, but resting hours extremely awkward. For Master Sgt. Farnsworth, the never ending daylight was made bearable by the company and hard work of everyone there.
"The people we worked with, military and civilian, were exceptional. The team atmosphere and accommodations provided proved critical in our overall mission success. We couldn't have done what we did without the support we received both in planning and while on the ground."
At the end of the day, the unique icy landscape provided an additional reward.
"While our pace of work was high, and stress a constant factor, at times we could pause, gaze at our surroundings and absorb how privileged we were to have been selected for such a unique mission," said Farnsworth. "Antarctica is a truly magnificent landscape that no amount of photos or explanation can justify."