This is the seventh 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.
Lt. Col. R.G. “Beef” Wellington spent the 2009-2010 Operation Deep Freeze season deployed as the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander in Christchurch, New Zealand.
1. What is your job, and from what unit are you deployed?
I am Commander of the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron and a C-17A Pilot, deployed from the 62nd Airlift Wing, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA. I’m originally from Newton Falls, OH, and have served 20 years in the US Air Force flying the C-141, the RAF VC-10 while on an exchange tour to the United Kingdom, and the C-17 when not on staff assignments. Having spent a lot of time supporting operations in the sand box, it’s a unique honor and challenge to participate in the spectacularly stunning and cold of Operation DEEP FREEZE.
2. How does the extreme environment impact your job?
The harsh environment and rapidly changing weather dictate the pace of our operations, transporting researchers, support personnel, and supplies from the U.S. Antarctic Program logistical hub in Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The predictably unpredictable weather creates periods of operational lulls and surges, while risk management and contingency planning are key components to mission success. One always has to be prepared for a sudden snow storm, gusty winds, and frigid temperatures. At times, it’s best to cancel or abort the mission and try again another day–Mother Nature doesn’t fool around on Antarctica!
3. What is your favorite part about being in Antarctica?
I fully enjoy working and socializing with all of our international partners that contribute to program success. Specifically, my favorite activity and a source of great interest and satisfaction is speaking with the scientists and learning about their projects as we go back and forth from the continent. Not only is it educational, but it produces a great sense of pride in our contribution to science. I’m very proud to play a role in work that promises to benefit many generations to come.
4. What are some of the unique challenges of living and working in Antarctica that most people wouldn’t think about?
Eyelash icicles!!! Is there a cure or remedy? Regrettably, we do not get to spend much time on the surface. our job is to deliver the goods and people as efficiently as we can and get out before the cold negatively impacts our aircraft systems or a storm blows in, increasing the hazard to flight operations. So, on an average mission, we are only on the ‘ground’ from one to two hours. Even during that limited time, I’m always amazed when icicles form from my eyelashes when I’m not wearing my goggles. Is it just me?
5. Any advice for those east coast U.S. people currently experiencing the “Snowpocalypse”?
If you must go outside and need recommendations on some good quality but slightly used Extreme Cold Weather gear, let me know and good luck!