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Operation Deep Freeze completes another successful season despite pandemic concerns

  • Published
  • By Edzel Butac
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Though it is another season for the books, the 2020-2021 season of Operation Deep Freeze (ODF) ends as a highlight for one Reserve Citizen Airman’s career.

Chief Master Sgt. Ty Brooks, a loadmaster assigned to the 313th Airlift Squadron, has been participating in ODF for 18 years. Brooks, who will retire from the Air Force Reserve this summer, says ODF is one of the highlights of his more than 40-year career.

“I’ll certainly miss working with the staff and crew, and the Kiwi folks that work so hard in support of the Antarctic mission. Of course, flying over the continent of Antarctica never gets old. I won’t miss the cold though.”

Team McChord successfully completed its 2020-2021 season of Operation Deep Freeze March 26.

“This was the 21st season in a row of accident-free Antarctic operations performed by the C-17 teams,” said Lt. Col. Brandon Tellez, Air Mobility Command C-17 Antarctic Mission commander, who is also assigned to the 62nd Airlift Wing.

It was unlike any other season this year. With a raging pandemic across the globe, crews had to adjust to a different set of challenges alongside the frozen landscape of Antarctica.

“The difference this year was COVID-19,” said Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Emmert, ODF superintendent assigned to the 446th Operations Group. “We had to send each rotation into New Zealand two-weeks early in order to do a two-week isolation. Once we were released from isolation and started flying the missions to Antarctica, we had to ensure anytime we were next to cargo or passengers that we had masks and gloves on. The United States Antarctic Program (USAP) and NSF did not want to take any chances on letting the virus enter Antarctica.”

Despite the risk mitigation efforts, the crews still delivered more than three million pounds of cargo, conducted two aeromedical evacuations, and transported more than 1,000 people all while landing on a shortened runway impacted after an Antarctic storm.

“With all the changes and difficulties that had to be endured for COVID-19 operations this last ODF season, everyone involved was ready and willing to do what was asked of them for total mission success,” said Brooks.

The 446th and 62nd Airlift Wings, flying the C-17 Globemaster III, offer unparalleled Department of Defense support to the National Science Foundation (NSF)-managed U.S. Antarctic Program, with operations that began in late September. ODF is unlike any other U.S. military operation. ODF is one of the military's most difficult peacetime missions due to the harsh Antarctic environment. The U.S. military is uniquely equipped and trained to operate in such an austere environment and has therefore provided support to the USAP since 1955.

The ODF season runs annually Aug. 1 through July 31 with the main season ending in February-March timeframe. This timeframe allows the NSF’s research teams and partnered entities the safest and most efficient method of accomplishing their joint goals.