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NEWS | Dec. 2, 2022

Operation Deep Freeze gets underway at JBLE

By Abraham Essenmacher 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Approximately 100 U.S. Soldiers with the 11th Transportation Battalion, 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) and the 331st Modular Causeway Company have been loading equipment and supplies to support Operation Deep Freeze (ODF), from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

ODF is a multi-national effort supporting science and research efforts for the National Science Foundation (NSF), at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Each year the U.S. and NSF deploy about 700 people to perform scientific research, as well as 2,500 people to operate and maintain year-round research stations and logistics in support of this research.

This operation only takes place once a year, which places a high-level of importance to ensure everything is properly tracked, loaded, and ready to ship. Due to higher temperatures this year preventing a natural ice sheet to move supplies from ship to shore, the Army will also deploy a 272-foot-long causeway. The causeway, known as a roll-on/roll-off discharge facility, allows for the rapid unloading of cargo from larger ships to unimproved beaches or smaller ships by acting as a floating pier.

“It’s extremely critical because if we didn’t build that pier, we wouldn’t be able to get all their supplies, equipment, and rations,” said Staff Sgt. Peter Rogone, 331st Transportation Company, tugboat operator. “We will come in with our pier to help deliver all of these goods they need to survive until the next summer. This also involves removing all of their trash and recycling so they’re not contaminating their environment.”

Once all the cargo from JBLE is loaded onto the rail cars, it will travel 2,736 miles to Port Hueneme, Calif. This year’s cargo has weighed in at over 930 tons between the cargo supply containers and the causeway, and has taken nearly two weeks to complete the onloading process.

“Logistics can be repetitive, but at the same time it’s necessary, and we can do it in different environments,” said Sgt. Nicholas Luisi, 331st Transportation Company, cargo specialist. “It’s also important for our newer cargo specialists to get experience on these operations, and they can become more successful here and at other units they travel to.”

The planning phase for ODF began in June this year to identify costs, complete contracts, and identify timelines for specific portions of it to be completed. Prior to the equipment and containers being loaded, Soldiers worked to also ensure components were ready for loading.

“It starts every Monday morning with performing maintenance on our equipment, ensuring they are ready to go, performing inspections on the containers we’re shipping, ensuring there is no rust, and conducting pressure testing,” said 1st Lt. Joseph Bonner, 331st Transportation Company, platoon leader.

Port Hueneme serves as a collection point where the load from JBLE arrives in addition to warping tugs from a unit in Japan. At that point, all cargo makes a maritime journey to Port Lyttelton, New Zealand, and then to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Overall, the shipment from California to Antarctica will be travelling 8,040 nautical miles. Factoring in the ships from Japan, there are over 12,770 nautical miles being traveled for this operation.

“We’ve got Soldiers, including our more junior enlisted, who are in charge of keeping the accountability of all of this equipment, or chaining all of it down with 100,000-pound cranes onto railway cars,” said 1st Lt. Jacob Wells, 11th Transportation Battalion, 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), mobility officer, out of Fort Story. “It’s such a grand scale operation, and I’m sure people are aware that their Army does these things, but the coolest part of the job is being here and a part of it.”

Once all shipping containers and heavy operating equipment arrive at McMurdo Station, it will all need to be offloaded and set up for safe operation. Unlike conditions at JBLE, additional factors the Soldiers will face involves 28-degree temperatures and freezing waters. The duration of their work is expected to take five weeks before they finish at McMurdo Station.  

“Success for me is where no one gets hurt, everyone comes back safe, the mission has been completed, and everything is done,” said Bonner.