JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- The U.S. military kicked off the 2021-2022 season of Operation Deep Freeze when a team of Airmen from the 446th and 62nd Airlift Wings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, departed for Christchurch, New Zealand, in September.
“This upcoming season is getting back more like ‘normal’ in that we have an increased number of missions compared to last year,” said Lt. Col. Brandon Tellez, the C-17 Antarctic mission commander and a 62nd Operations Group deputy commander. “Last year the National Science Foundation was in sustainment mode and really cut back on the mission requirements. So we are looking forward to completing all our missions and excited to be super busy with flights this year.”
Team McChord and its C-17 Globemaster III aircraft have been the workhorse for the ODF mission over the years, according to Tellez.
“This will be our 21st season of safely operating the C-17 out of McChord for ODF and that is attributed to the expertise and professionalism of the men and women of Team McChord,” Tellez said.
For some of these men and women, this will be their first or second time supporting ODF.
“I never once thought I would have a chance to be able to step foot in Antarctica, so this is a very exciting opportunity for me,” said Staff Sgt. Mary Suchocki, an Air Force Reserve loadmaster with the 728th Airlift Squadron on her first mission to Antarctica. “I don’t think it will compare to any other place I have ever been to.”
The first mission flight to Antarctica during this rotation is scheduled for the first week of October.
“Every rotation we go on we have lots of first-timers,” Tellez said. “Going to a new country always comes with uncertainty, but Christchurch, New Zealand, is an extremely hospitable place. They take pride in the fact that they are the ‘Gateway to Antarctica’ so they always love to see the C-17 arrive for each rotation.”
“I tell my team to enjoy the local area, get to know the friendly people there and to feel free to talk and share about the extremely important role the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, the C-17, and Team McChord plays in Antarctic operations.”
For Staff Sgt. Chandler Smith, an Air Force Reserve loadmaster with the 97th Airlift Squadron and on his second rotation, he is looking forward to some things he missed the first time.
“I would like to fly the remaining missions down to the ice required to earn my Antarctic service medal,” Smith said. “This is a special medal because it is one that not many people in the Air Force have.”
Although the excitement displayed in the auditorium during their mission briefing is palpable, these crew members know the mission comes first.
“Ultimately we are down there to serve the NSF in getting their people and equipment to and from Antarctica,” Smith said. “The expectation for every ODF rotation is to satisfy the NSF’s airlift requirements during the short time we are there. Certain things such as weather or aircraft maintenance can cause delays, but we always do our best to stick with it to get the mission done.”
Tellez, who has been the commander for the Antarctic mission for two years, and in the ODF program for three, said he enjoys every single mission.
“Antarctica has the most volatile weather on Earth and is extremely hard to forecast,” Tellez said. “So every time we go down there, there is something different and new. The landscape is always very inspiring and the fact that the crew makes the mission look easy, even though it isn’t, is never lost on me and my team.”
Despite all the COVID-19 mitigations last season, the crews still delivered more than 3 million pounds of cargo, conducted two aeromedical evacuations and transported more than 1,000 people -- all while landing on a shortened runway impacted after an Antarctic storm.
ODF is a joint service, inter-agency support for NSF, which manages the United States Antarctic Program. Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica provides Department of Defense support to the NSF and the USAP through ODF.
The ODF main season runs annually, from August through July. This timeframe allows the NSF’s research teams and partnered entities the safest and most efficient method of accomplishing their joint goals.
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