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The coldest place on Earth

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ryan Zeski
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
After six weeks of operations in Antarctica, Tech. Sgt. Toni Donahee has a new appreciation of what it means to keep cool while at work.

Donahee, a supply specialist with the 127th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., recently returned home to Michigan after spending six weeks at McMurdo Station supporting operation Deep Freeze, the military's support of an ongoing National Science Foundation research program in Antarctica.

The New York Air National Guard's special ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft are the primary means of transportation to and from the station from the rest of the world. Donahee was part of the crew assigned to support the LC-130 mission there. Her job was to maintain supply kits which include common replacement parts for the aircraft. If an aircraft breaks down and the required part isn't in the kit, the part must be located from anywhere in the world and shipped down.

This task is easier said than done. With the extreme weather conditions, flights in or out could be grounded anywhere from a couple days to weeks.

"Sometimes the visibility would get bad and stay that way for a couple days," said Donahee.

Military crews operating the LC-130s are able to perform air drops to remote locations, re-supply research stations, transport passengers and anything else the NSF scientists require to adequately complete their job.

"They are the lifeblood of the logistics operations," said Col. Mark Doll, 13th Air Expeditionary Group, deputy commander.

Since arriving in October 2015, the 139th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron with LC-130s from the 109th Air Wing has completed 154 missions to various camps across the continent, including 75 to the South Pole.

McMurdo Station is a U.S. Antarctic research center in Antarctica which serves as central hub for operations. The station is the largest community in Antarctica, capable of hosting more than 1,000 residents.

Antarctic summers consist of sunlight 24 hours a day, whereas winters consist of 24 hours of darkness. This darkness is able to produce barely livable conditions. The lowest recorded temperature in Antarctica was -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit while the average temperature is around -81 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to these conditions operations are shut down during the winter months with the exception of minimal winter-fly missions to provide supplies through airdrops. Only a few members stay behind to watch over things.

It's easy to see why keeping these Aircraft operational is so important. Without the contributions and hard work of everyone involved this crucial research wouldn't be possible, said Doll. 

Donahee says, her passion is out in the field working with the aircraft, whether it's in sub-zero temperatures or in the blistering heat, it's where she wants to be.

Donahee's recent trip to Antarctica marked the second straight year that 127th Wing members have supported Deep Freeze. In 2015, Master Sgt. Bill Scalf and Tech. Sgt. Dave Thomas, of the 127th Air Refueling Group, also spent about six weeks in Antarctica supporting the operation.