This is US Air Force Lt. Col. Edward Vaughan‘s first entry in the Armed with Science series, Dispatches from Antarctica. The series will feature Lt. Col. Vaughan’s first-hand experiences on OPERATION: DEEP FREEZE, the Defense Department’s support of National Science Foundation research in Antarctica.
When Dr. John Ohab, Defense Media Activity, and Lt Col Ken Hoffman, 13th Air Force Public Affairs, approached me about doing this series, I thought of a thousand reasons why I’m not the right guy. While I’ve previously deployed to Antarctica and other more hostile locations, I am not the most experienced US Antarctic Program participant. There are dozens of polar experts from the 109th Airlift Wing with more “ice time”. Neither am I the most knowledgeable about the science, the flying, the people, the issues, or really anything.
As a military member in Antarctica, you might say that I’m perfectly average. Which is, as it turns out, exactly why they picked me.
27 September 2010: Christchurch, New Zealand — one day before the ice.
It’s about 4 am. Suddenly, thhwwuummp! I wake to what sounds like a slack human body collapsing against my hotel room door. A few seconds pass. Then the sound of someone trying to drag that same body across the roof of the building for exactly 1.4 seconds. Followed by…silence. I crack open the door and I’m met by a dozen other sleepy faces up and down the hallway, whispering about the aftershock we all just felt.
((Note on earthquake: On September 4th, New Zealand’s South Island experienced a major earthquake, tipping the Richter Scale at a healthy 7.1. Since then, residents (and visitors!) in Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury region have endured hundreds of aftershocks, some very strong. The resilience of Kiwis to “soldier on”, clean up the rubble, and bounce back from the devastation is remarkable. Nevertheless, this was a major disaster for the region and some areas may not be fully recovered for a long time.))
I spent most of Monday in meetings. First with Captain (Doctor) Greg, the military flight surgeon, and his medical team. We sipped coffee, discussed logistics of the deployment, and eyeballed Sunday NFL football…live at 8am on a Monday morning. After listening in on Lieutenant Colonel R. G. “Beef” Wellington’s welcome talk to his 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, I visited the US Antarctic Program’s Clothing Distribution Center (CDC), adjacent to the International Antarctic Centre, to receive my Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear. More on that from the ice.
After packing and repacking the ECW, I wrestled long johns, lip balm, gauntlets, balaclavas, under-gloves, and a hundred small items that I likely won’t ever need into my one bag. Before dinner, I borrowed a bike from the Commodore and rode through the streets of one of the most beautiful cities I know, earthquake notwithstanding. These are the last green leaves I’ll see for a long time. One last call home. Then, sleep. Tomorrow, we fly to the ice.