USA — Military Supports Science Foundation in Antarctica

WASHINGTON — Air Force Lt. Col. Ed “Hertz” Vaugh­an is spend­ing 50 days in cold­er con­di­tions than most will ever expe­ri­ence to pro­mote sci­en­tif­ic research.

Vaughn — com­man­der of McMur­do Detach­ment 1 and deputy com­man­der of the 13th Air Expe­di­tionary Group, Joint Task Force Sup­port Forces Antarc­ti­ca — is brav­ing tem­per­a­tures that often dip below minus 20 degrees Fahren­heit to sup­port the U.S. Antarc­tic Pro­gram, the Nation­al Sci­ence Foundation’s sci­ence mis­sion in Antarc­ti­ca.

In a Nov. 3 “DOD Live” blog­gers round­table, Vaughn dis­cussed the Defense Department’s sup­port role in the inter­a­gency effort.

Defense Depart­ment offi­cials asked the com­man­der of U.S Pacif­ic Com­mand in 2005 to take the lead and be the sup­port­ed com­mand for the effort, he said, and Pacom cre­at­ed the joint task force to exe­cute the mis­sion.

The task force sup­ports the Nation­al Sci­ence Foundation’s research and explo­ration in Antarc­ti­ca through Oper­a­tion Deep Freeze, a U.S mil­i­tary oper­a­tion unlike any oth­er. It is among the military’s more dif­fi­cult peace­time mis­sions due to the harsh Antarc­tic envi­ron­ment, Vaughn said. The mil­i­tary is unique­ly equipped and trained to oper­ate in such an aus­tere envi­ron­ment, he added, and has sup­port­ed the U.S. Antarc­tic Pro­gram since 1955.

Vaugh­an is no stranger to serv­ing in harsh con­di­tions. He first deployed to the Green­landic ice­cap in 1992 and began fly­ing Oper­a­tion Deep Freeze mis­sions in Antarc­ti­ca in the 1993–94 time­frame. He sub­se­quent­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in six more Oper­a­tion Deep Freeze sea­sons in both fly­ing and non­fly­ing roles.

LC-130 trans­port planes from the New York Air Nation­al Guard that are equipped with skis instead of wheels fly to some Antarc­tic out­posts, such the South Pole, as well as numer­ous sci­en­tif­ic sta­tions around the con­ti­nent that are manned on a sea­son­al basis, Vaughn said. The biggest hur­dle they face is deal­ing with Antarctica’s for­mi­da­ble weath­er changes, he added.

“The weath­er is non­co­op­er­a­tive,” he said. “You start get­ting into sit­u­a­tions where you have a very nar­row win­dow to launch a mis­sion or a nar­row win­dow to recov­er a flight.” He added that some­times it’s not the weath­er at McMur­do Sta­tion that mat­ters, but rather the weath­er at wher­ev­er the crews are head­ed, such as the var­i­ous field camps scat­tered through­out the con­ti­nent.

While the tem­per­a­tures in Antarc­ti­ca are harsh, Vaugh­an said, he is tak­ing advan­tage of Antarctica’s aus­tral sum­mer, which pro­vides 24-hour day­light. “You do have oppor­tu­ni­ties to get out­side. … There are some hik­ing trails around here, if the weath­er per­mits,” said Vaugh­an, but he added that the inher­ent focus of every­one sta­tioned there is work­ing to sup­port sci­ence.

“If you were to just walk through McMur­do any time of the day or night, you’d get a sense that the peo­ple here are focused on work, and their job and the mis­sion is the pri­ma­ry focus,” Vaugh­an said.

About 10 per­cent of the 1,200 peo­ple work­ing out of McMur­do Sta­tion are mil­i­tary, Vaughn said, and the mis­sion reflects a high lev­el of inter­ser­vice and inter­a­gency coop­er­a­tion. “McMur­do is tru­ly a joint mis­sion, with mem­bers from the Air Force, Navy, the Reserve and Guard, as well as one mem­ber of the U.S. Army that par­tic­i­pates each year, as well as the Coast Guard, who sup­ports the mis­sion through their Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty role,” he said.

Vaugh­an said the task force’s pri­ma­ry role is sup­port­ing var­i­ous Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion-projects that are head­ed by some of the world’s lead­ing sci­en­tists.

Some of these sci­en­tists even share what they learn with the peo­ple work­ing at the sta­tion, Vaughn not­ed. “Two or three times a week, they’ll come out into either the din­ing facil­i­ty or oth­er lec­ture halls and pro­vide brief­in­gs and lec­tures on the sci­ence that’s going on,” he said.

The Nation­al Sci­ence Foundation’s U.S. Antarc­tic Pro­gram web­site pro­vides more infor­ma­tion on the var­i­ous sci­en­tif­ic research projects being con­duct­ed on the ice.

In addi­tion, to bring aware­ness to the U.S. Antarc­tic Pro­gram and the Defense Department’s role in sup­port­ing its mis­sion, Vaugh­an has co-pro­duced a series on DOD’s sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy blog, “Armed with Sci­ence.” The series, “Dis­patch­es from Antarc­ti­ca,” fea­tures Vaughn’s first-hand expe­ri­ences sup­port­ing sci­en­tif­ic research through the U.S. Antarc­tic Pro­gram.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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