Dispatches from Antarctica: Before the Ice

Lt. Col. Edward Vaughan, Commander, McMurdo Station Detachment, Joint Task Force - Support Forces Antarctica.

Lt. Col. Edward Vaughan, Commander, McMurdo Station Detachment, Joint Task Force - Support Forces Antarctica.

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.))

C-17 from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, shown here previously on the ramp at Christchurch International Airport. An aircraft just like this one, will take Lt Col Vaughan and his team to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. (Photo: NSF/USAF TSgt Shane A. Cuomo, 20 Aug 2007)

C-17 from Joint Base Lewis-McChord at Christchurch International Airport. A C-17 will take Lt Col Vaughan and his team to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. (Photo: NSF/USAF TSgt Shane Cuomo, 2007)

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.

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11 Responses to Dispatches from Antarctica: Before the Ice

  1. Chris Harding says:

    Who weighs more? A person at the equator or one at the pole?

  2. Marty Smallman says:

    Hi Marty at Raytheon / USAP Christchurch here. Nice to see someone blogging from the Ice…..
    If you want check out my blog at for other antarctica related topics…

    • Armed with Science says:

      Marty, thanks for the comment! What has your experience been like at Christchurch, NZ?Feel free to stay connected on the blog throughout the series. ~ John | AwS Team

    • Lt. Col. Ed Vaughan says:

      Thanks Marty. Down here in Antarctica things are starting to pick up. Several more C-17 missions, Baslers arrived yesterday. The posted blogs are a still behind the timeline presently. As they catch up to real time, look for more detail about the mission and the people.

      Tailwinds, Ed

  3. Ali says:

    I can’t wait to read more

    • Armed with Science says:

      Ali, let us know what you’d like to learn more about. Lt. Col. Vaughan will be checking the blog posts regularly to see what interests people. ~ John | AwS Team

  4. contemporary art paintings says:

    How quiet is it up there in Antarctica?

    • Lt. Col. Ed Vaughan says:

      Well, down here, it really depends on the weather. Many days would be silent, except for the blowing winds. Every once in while, I’ll take a hike to New Zealand’s Scott Base, or up Ob Hill, and the wind will be light. On those days, one might look off far away in any direction and see no signs of humans. The silence takes on a presence of its own.

  5. C7654312 says:

    Is it cold there?

  6. keramicar beograd says:

    Really enjoy the articles and writing style of the journalists.