Story by Ensign James Griffin, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Public Affairs
Navy Cargo Handling Battalion (NCHB) 1 personnel arrive at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, on Jan. 21, 2016, via U.S. Air Force C-130 in support of the National Science Foundation annual resupply mission in support of Operation Deep Freeze 2016. The U.S. Navy has been a part of Operation Deep Freeze since 1955, which has included numerous deployments by Seabees over the years. (Photo by Electricians Mate 1st Class Jeremy Bivens/160120-N-ZZ999-001)
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (NNS) — Sailors assigned to Navy Cargo Handling Battalion (NCHB) 1 deployed to Antarctica in mid-January to support the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), the nation’s research program on the southernmost continent, which is managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
NCHB 1 deployed to NSF’s McMurdo Station, where less than one percent of the world’s population has ever visited, as part of Operation Deep Freeze — the military’s logistical support component of the USAP.
McMurdo, the main U.S. station in Antarctica, is located at the southern tip of Ross Island, and is the primary logistics facility for supply for NSF’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, 800 air miles inland, as well as remote field camps and is also the waste management center for much of the USAP.
As the USAP manager, NSF has a presidential mandate to manage three year-round research stations in Antarctica. McMurdo is the largest of the three stations and the globe’s southernmost seaport.
More than 50 Sailors from NCHB 1 deployed to McMurdo Station during Antarctica’s summer to offload containers of supplies to be used by scientists and support personnel. Cargo handlers will be working around the clock for nearly a month in below-freezing temperatures to transport hundreds of containers on and off the transport ship.
Military Sealift Command (MSC) chartered container ship MV Ocean Giant provides ocean cargo transport in support of Operation Deep Freeze. An MSC-chartered cargo ship and tanker have made the challenging voyage to Antarctica, which includes passage through a 15-mile ice channel, in places more than 13 feet thick, every year since the station was established in 1955.
Petty Officer 1st Class Derek McCleary, a Seabee from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, will be participating in Operation Deep Freeze for a second time and will bring with him his experience to ensure the mission is accomplished safely and efficiently.
“We’re the only command that supports McMurdo Station as far as getting cargo in and out of there,” said McCleary. “It can only be done during a certain time of the year, because our winter is their summer — so that’s why we go when we go.”
While McCleary has experience as a cargo handler, he looks forward to learning and new experiences so he can prepare the next group of Sailors for this annual mission to support the USAP.
“I think each time is a different experience; I’ll be in a new leadership position this time around so there will probably be some new things to learn, expect, and teach to the next group of Sailors,” he said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Michelle Panniell, from Baltimore, also is excited to go on the ice and do her duty as part of the hatch team.
“The hatch teams are people who string up the containers and other equipment so they can be moved,” said Panniell. “We do things to balance the load and make sure no damage is done to that cargo.”
One thing Panniell plans to do during her down time is collect some of the ice in a bottle to take home.
“So many people are amazed that I get to have this experience; all of my friends and family want me to bring something back, but I feel extremely fortunate and honored for this opportunity,” she said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Davis, from Elkins, West Virginia, understands the value of the cargo handling mission to support the ongoing mission in Antarctica year-round.
“We’re going down to Antarctica to support the National Science Foundation, because throughout the year they are down there performing studies,” said Davis. “It’s our job to bring in more supplies and bring back some of their findings or equipment.”
While resupply and support the NSF is the main mission, Sailors must also keep their safety as a main priority.
“One of the biggest safety things to look out for is dehydration,” said Davis. “It’s cold and you don’t really think about it because you’re not getting hot and sweaty, so dehydration is definitely one of those things we all need to watch out for, in conjunction with, ice and frost bite.”
Petty Officer 1st Class Cullen Cantrell, from Austin, Texas, agreed safety is a major priority and nothing can prepare a person better than the proper training.
“There’s a lot of training involved to go on a mission like this,” said Cantrell. “We use our land-ship to practice moving containers on and off the ship, but we also have to do cold weather training — how to wear the gear and to how to prepare for working in the elements.”
Like many others, this is also Cantrell’s first time going to McMurdo Station.
“I’m from Texas, so just moving up here to Virginia was a big change for me,” Cantrell said. “I can’t imagine the temperature difference down there; I may turn into an icicle.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Frazier, from Camdenton, Missouri, is another first-timer; however, he plans to earmark his first mission to Antarctica in a special way by commemorating the upcoming 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Seabees. As a Seabee, Frazier understands the important role Seabees had in building up McMurdo Station. He is making plans to bring a Seabee flag and will fly it during his deployment to Antarctica.
“I do have a Seabee flag in my house that comes to mind, and I think I’ll have to fly it down there for the [75th] birthday,” said Frazier.
For all of the Sailors participating in Operation Deep Freeze, they can expect to operate in 20-degree weather and will be required to wear 3-4 layers of clothing to carry out their cargo-handling mission.
“When we go to Antarctica, we’re issued special cold weather gear that is better adaptive to the ice,” said Frazier, “like boots that have better grips and extra insulated jackets.”
Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group (NAVELSG), a component of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, is a Navy Reserve command organized and staffed to provide a wide range of supply and transportation support critical for peacetime support, crisis response, humanitarian, and combat service missions. NAVELSG consists of a full-time, Selective Reserve support staff and five Navy expeditionary logistics regiments and 11 cargo handling battalions.