Saving Lives in Antarctica: Major Maria Angles

This is the second part of our series featuring servicemembers working on OPERATION: DEEP FREEZE, the Defense Department’s support of National Science Foundation research in Antarctica. Special thanks to Air Force Lt. Col. Ed Vaughan, Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica, for co-producing this effort.

Maj (Dr.) Angles at the South Pole

Maj (Dr.) Angles at the South Pole

Major (Dr.) Maria Angles is a member of 13th Air Force at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, Hawaii, and serves as the Validating Flight Surgeon for Pacific Air Forces. She grew up a military brat . Her father was a general surgeon/flight surgeon in the Air Force. She has always had an interest in practicing medicine in austere, challenging environments and her military career has been focused on this path.

Q: What is your job, and from what unit are you deployed?

A: I am with 13th Air Force out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam and am the flight surgeon here on-station in charge of the aeromedical evacuations from McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Q: How does the extreme environment impact your job?

A: Other than having to wear a few more layers that beg the question “Does this make me look fat?” the impact is surprisingly small. It is all about adaptability and working through challenges. Medical re-supply is always an issue and in the evacuation environment; sometimes weather can delay movement of critical patients to higher echelons of care. The work of the 109th and the 304th have truly saved lives in this environment and helped with the expeditious transports of patients from the “Ice” to Christchurch, New Zealand.


Maj (Dr.) Angles scales Ob Hill near McMurdo Station.

Maj (Dr.) Angles scales Ob Hill near McMurdo Station.

Q: What is your favorite part about being in Antarctica?

A: This is a totally different kind of “desert” the military has sent me to. The eclectic population is interesting and refreshing. The interagency collaboration that goes on here at the station is some of the most impressive I have seen. With the diverse nature of the missions and the people, the fact that so much is learned, taught and gained here, is amazing.

Q: What are some of the unique challenges of living and working in Antarctica that most people wouldn’t think about?

A: Even if the distance isn’t that far, count on transport being 2-3 times longer than expected. Healing is much slower here, so injuries that typically affect someone for just a few days can last weeks. Truly fresh food is hard to come by–the galley does a fantastic job–but it will be nice to buy my own food.

Q: Any advice for those east coast U.S. people currently experiencing the “Snowpocalypse”?

A: Gortex is good, down is warm, keep your feet dry, and better weather is coming.

[Dr. John Ohab is a new technology strategist at the Defense Media Activity.]

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