Report from Antarctica: USTRANSCOM Deputy Commander Vice Adm. Mark D. Harnitchek

Vice Adm. Mark D. Harnitchek is the deputy commander, United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), Scott Air Force Base, Ill. He serves as a principal advisor and assistant to the commander, USTRANSCOM. USTRANSCOM is the single manager for global air, land and sea deployment and distribution for the Department of Defense. This post was originally written for the USTRANSCOM internal blog.

Vice Admiral Harinitchek, Deputy Commander, USTRANSCOM

Vice Admiral Harinitchek, Deputy Commander, USTRANSCOM (Official Photo)

I recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica. I was there to visit the National Science Foundation’s facilities at McMurdo Station and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station; not many folks get to go there so it was truly a thrill to experience that continent in all its majestic splendor — absolutely pristine and unspoiled — and to see firsthand the incredible performance of the mobility team that supports the National Science Foundation.

Literally everything at the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station and outposts on Antarctica is transported there by a TRANSCOM component — by sea via an Military Sealift Command charter vessel, container ship or oiler — and by air via a McChord C-17 or NYANG LC-130 (that’s a C-130 with skis). Equally impressive, everything present at the South Pole station was flown in an LC-130 — and I mean everything. I was lucky enough to fly to the South Pole and see these LC-130 professionals in action on the ice — and that’s literally on the ice, since there’s no concrete on the continent, and no hangers either, so the crews are outside working on this a/c in 
subzero temps — talk about impressive!

The mission in Antarctica is largely scientific with three major endeavors

  1. Study of the environment and the biology there: rock formations, glacier behavior and wildlife — penguins, seals, whales, undersea life
  2. Study of Antarctic systems to predict environment changes/shifts in the rest of the world: global warming, weather forecasting, etc.
  3. Study unrelated to Antarctica itself: but the environment lends itself to the study of things like: neutrinos which are released into the atmosphere near the South Pole; the construction of large radio telescopes; the study of extremely pristine air, etc.

 

Rear Admiral Buzby, Vice Admiral Harnitchek and Lieutenant General Wyatt hang out with some Emperor penguins during their "Breakin' the Ice" tour to Antarctica. (Photo by Major Jonathan R. Hannon, USAF)

Rear Admiral Buzby, Vice Admiral Harnitchek and Lieutenant General Wyatt hang out with some Emperor penguins during their "Breakin' the Ice" tour to Antarctica. (Photo by Major Jonathan R. Hannon, USAF)

Another fascinating thing about Antarctica is the history of exploration. Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian, and Robert Falcon Scott, an Englishman, were the first to reach the South Pole in December 1911 and January 1912 respectively. Amundsen’s successful round-trip journey to the Pole took about 3 months to complete — and all with simple winter coats, sleds, and dogs. On the other hand, Scott’s journey did not go as well and his small party perished on their return journey. The US station at the South Pole is now named after both of these men, in honor of their tremendous courage and spirit.

Check out our Facebook page to see pictures from various parts of the trip. It was the experience of a lifetime and another tribute to the great work of the entire DOD distribution and transportation team, including US Pacific Command, Air National Guard and many others. This year’s Operation Deep Freeze just ended, but many of the scientific endeavors continue.

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