WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (NNS) -- Sailors attached to Navy Cargo Handling Battalion (NCHB) 1 at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, Cheatham Annex, returned Feb. 14, from a 20-day deployment to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze.
The yearly joint-force, multi-national operation is conducted by Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force personnel to provide operational and logistics support to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) United States Antarctica program at McMurdo Station and other outposts in Antarctica. Members of NCHB 1 unloaded and loaded the Military Sealift Command-contracted cargo ship, M/V American Tern (T-AK-4729).
For more than 50 years, the NSF has relied on the Navy cargo handlers to ensure safe delivery of life-sustaining cargo for its research scientists and residents in Antarctica.
"We off-load all the supplies and equipment for them (McMurdo Station) until we come back the following year," said Cmdr. Vincent Clifton, NCHB 1 commanding officer. "It is more cost effective and efficient for the NSF that the Navy provides this service."
During this year's operation, the Sailors of NCHB 1 worked in 12-hour shifts to unload 10.4 million tons of cargo, including all of the food and supplies for the next year. Immediately after finishing with unloading, they had to turn around and load 9.6 million tons of cargo onto the ship, including completed research projects, equipment and trash.
"This is a once in a lifetime experience," said Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW) Jeffrey Wilcox. "This mission is why I took orders here. This is the only command in the Navy that gets to go there. I had been to every other continent, so this was a goal of mine."
Sailors in Antarctica not only have to deal with the extremely cold weather conditions, they also have to get used to the 24-hour sunlight.
"We do walks and short trips so they can get accustomed to the weather before starting their 12 on 12 off (12-hour shifts)," said Lt. Michael Bethany, Operation Deep Freeze officer in charge. "It wasn't difficult to sleep when I got there, but since I have been back it has been a difficult adjustment."
The Air Force, Coast Guard and Air National Guard worked together with the Navy and neighboring countries to get the supplies to Antarctica. During the process, the Air Force and Air National Guard provided transportation for personnel traveling to and from the remote camp. The Coast Guard works at the essential task of ice breaking, allowing the cargo ship, with its important cargo, to reach the camp, and New Zealand contractors provide line-handlers and truck drivers for the operation. All of these organizations, along with NCHB 1, make the re-supply operation possible.
The operation isn't just beneficial for the scientists and inhabitants of Antarctica, the military benefits from the unique training opportunity.
"If we were to go to war with a cold climate country, we will be trained to deal with it," said Bethany. "Because of this (mission) we keep our cold weather experience."
For Sailors like Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Jessica Montesdeoca, this mission offered unique experiences besides the training.
"We did the polar plunge in frigid water," said Montesdeoca. "I saw animals I never could have seen anywhere else. I recommend everyone to go if you get the chance."
NCHB 1 is the Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group's (NAVELSG) active duty cargo handling battalion and is part of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC).
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