Editor’s Note: Over the coming weeks, Compass will take you on a journey to Antarctica with Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star as they participate in Operation Deep Freeze. Follow along for updates on the mission, cutter and crew as they resupply McMurdo Station.
Written by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener
More than 150 Coast Guard men and women embarked on a journey that would take them to the bottom of the world Nov. 30, 2014; bound for a place only a small fraction of the world’s population will ever see. The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star from Seattle is on an expedition to Antarctica in support of the United States Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation.
Polar Star’s crew will be opening frozen shipping lanes and allowing fuel and cargo vessels to deliver vital supplies to scientists and support personnel at NSF’s McMurdo Station, the U.S. Antarctic Program’s logistical hub.
“We are supporting science that could lead to breakthroughs and discoveries on behalf of the entire world,” said Capt. Matthew Walker, commanding officer of Polar Star. “The United States can’t sacrifice our ability to navigate around the globe.”
Polar Star has been a vital part of U.S. icebreaking operations since the ship’s commissioning in 1976. Icebreaking can be explained in a simple way using basic physics: two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. For Polar Star’s crew, it means the ship’s hull versus the Antarctic ice.
“A freighter and fuel ship will follow us in toward McMurdo Station so they can of-fload the supplies that the scientists and their support personnel will need,” said Lt. j.g. Joel Wright, assistant operations officer aboard Polar Star. “Everything we do is designed to allow them to operate for next year. Whatever comes in is what allows the people down there to survive.”
The crew will reach the outer edges of Antarctic ice by mid-January and enter one the most challenging operating environments of any Coast Guard unit. Little to no support structure exists for Polar Star’s crew in the Polar Regions. Therefore, the cutter is designed with redundant systems so in the event there is a mechanical casualty the cutter can continue to perform its mission.
Alongside the permanently assigned crewmembers, specialized personnel equipped with unique qualifications are embarked for the journey. A team of U.S. Coast Guard divers from San Diego and Norfolk, Virginia, joined the crew in Sydney, where provisioning and final preparations were made before steaming across the turbulent Southern Ocean. Additionally, Coast Guard men and women from across the country are temporarily assigned to the cutter to gain valuable knowledge of underway operations and the Coast Guard’s icebreaking program.
“This is the adventure of a lifetime and extremely rewarding, but the sacrifice and demands on the crew are beyond anything you see anywhere else in the Coast Guard,” said Wright. “It’s not all operational demand but being away from homeport. The families of our crew are asked to sacrifice so, so much.”