It took eight tries, but last fall Capt. Daniel Porter, a flight nurse with the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 187th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, 153rd Airlift Wing, finally got the call he long awaited.
He’d been selected to serve on the Operation Deep Freeze mission in Antarctica as an individual augmentee.
Operation Deep Freeze, launched in 1955, is a joint service, inter-agency effort to support the National Science Foundation, which manages the United States Antarctic Program. Scientists research the Antarctic and its ecosystems, how it responds to climate change and other topics that can’t be studied anywhere else.
The window to apply opened just before he deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in June 2022, Porter said. He interviewed and found out he was selected while in Qatar.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, because I know it’s a tall order on the family,” Porter said.
But with it being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, two weeks after returning home on Halloween, he headed to Antarctica. He and other augmentees first met at the airport in Dallas before flying to New Zealand, where they quarantined for 72 hours.
The temperature was still regularly in the 90s when he left Qatar in October, and only in the 20s when he reported for duty at McMurdo Station on Antarctica’s Ross Island for his eight-week rotation. But Porter said a bigger adjustment was the operational tempo.
“Coming down, I had been mentally prepared for heavy action, having to do a lot of transportation,” Porter said. “Maybe that’s because I was just deployed to the desert, and got home on Halloween and left to come here on the 14th.”
He found other ways to contribute. A flight surgeon, medical technician and Porter ran the station’s medical clinic, where they treated military and civilian patients, distributed medications as needed and maintained inventory. One day in his first month they were called to coordinate an evacuation 20 minutes before they usually closed up shop, but Porter said otherwise it was a slow season.
As summer in Antarctica means 24 hours of daylight, ODF participants don’t get to see the Southern Lights. But they have other ways to spend their free time. Porter said he enjoyed meeting people at networking events. And hiking – Ross Island was formed by four volcanos, with one of them, Mount Erebus, the southernmost active in the world. Porter said an excursion to Castle Rock, another landmark, offered a pretty gorgeous view of the volcano.
“We got up there on a nice day,” he said.
The selection criteria has changed over the years, but both the National Guard Bureau and Pacific Air Forces are involved in choosing augmentees. Porter said most of the people he’s met had winter survival training, which made them competitive. His came from when he was enlisted in the Minnesota Air National Guard; through the State Partnership Program, Porter was one of 20 airmen to go to Norway in a troop exchange.
“It was a cool, unique experience,” he said.
Porter’s squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jason Arndt, who is also a former branch chief for aeromedical evacuation, said being available to go to Antarctica, as well as having a higher level of medical skills deployment experience, look good on the application packet.
“It’s an outstanding opportunity for Air National Guard medics to participate in a much larger mission,” Arndt said. “It’s an interagency mission, and they get to coordinate with some National Science Foundation and international partners.”
He added that the experience with extreme cold climates may also prove valuable as the Department of Defense executes its updated Artic strategy.
Porter returned to the United States Jan. 8. Another Wyoming Air National Guardsman, Master Sgt. Carlie Dickson, left to support this mission last month.Read comments