The purpose of ODF is to provide logistical support to the U.S. Antarctic Program via Department of Defense assets. MSC has supported ODF since McMurdo Station was established in 1955, providing supplies and fuel to scientists operating from the remote base.
While the rest of the country shivers in a late December arctic blast, in Port Hueneme, Calif., where temperatures hover in the low 70s, cargo is being loaded onto the Military Sealift Command charter ship MV Ocean Giant in preparation for delivery to the remote Antarctica outpost of McMurdo Station, in support of the annual resupply mission; Operation Deep Freeze 2018.
Since Dec. 26, Navy Reservists from MSC’s Expeditionary Port Unit (EPU) 114 have been coordinating all aspects of the loadout of nearly 7 million pounds of cargo. The cargo consists of 498 containers filled will food, mechanical parts, vehicles, construction materials, office supplies and electronics equipment, and much more; 80 percent of the supplies needed the year’s survival at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
The five members of EPU-114 are tasked as a liaison with all the parties involved in the loadout which include Ocean Giant’s crew, port workers, stevedores and members of the National Science Foundation. While the loadout itself is challenging, working with members of several different organizations and people with different skill levels presents its own quandaries.
“Anytime you are doing a mission, you are forming a group dynamic,” explained Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Meyers, EPU-114’s executive officer. “Some people have never done a mission or worked with the cranes we are using. For some, this is one of several missions they have done. The real challenge for us is to balance all the different levels of experience, and to work with people’s strengths. Our goal is to get this ship loaded, and underway so that is can complete it’s follow on mission on time and safely. To do this, we continually look at the numbers and push forward to stay on time.”
Using only cranes, the cargo is carefully loaded onto the ships in a specific order that was planned by experts far in advance of the mission. Think of the 90’s game Tetris, and you have an idea of the puzzle EPU-114 and all the other players must solve to ensure and on time departure for Ocean Giant.
“The ODF mission is very different from any of the other mission/exercise loadouts we conduct over a year,” said Meyers. “The cargo we normally deal with is military vehicles and equipment. Here, things range from sodas and food, to HAZMAT and construction materials. There are significant weight differences between lifts that have to be accounted for. The operation is changing all the time because of the very specific order of the loadout. If something is loaded in the wrong order and has to come off, then we have to pull everything off to that point and start all over.”
While the work is challenging, Meyers says the benefits of EPU-114 participating are worth it in terms of knowledge gained for future missions or contingencies. Working in Port Hueneme allows the Reservists to get to know the players in the area such as the port operations staff, as well as the layout of the port, staging areas, their sizes and locations, and area accommodations needed for personnel participating in mission. Future mission will also rely on lessons learned during this year’s mission.
While opportunities to meet people and to gain knowledge and skills abound, Meyers admits there is a bigger motivator for his participation in Operation Deep Freeze 2018.
“This is one of the longest running operations in history,” he explained. “For us, it is an opportunity to support a science mission that not only impacts the United States, but also the entire world. Operation Deep Freeze crosses the boundaries of countries and cultures. It’s really amazing and I am proud to be a part of it; even if it is a small part.”
Ocean Giant is scheduled to depart Port Hueneme today. Following a stop in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the ship will load additional cargo, it will travel to the ice-pier at McMurdo Station, where members of Navy Cargo Handling Battalion ONE will conduct the offload. Before departing McMurdo station, Ocean Giant will be loaded with ice core samples that will be stored on the ship in sub-zero freezer containers. The ice core samples will be delivered to the United States for scientific study. In addition, retrograde cargo will be loaded onto the ship for transportation off the continent. These include trash and recyclable materials for disposal and equipment no longer required on the station.
On the other side of the world, MSC chartered tanker ship Maersk Perry has departed a fuel pier in Greece with 4.5 million gallons of diesel fuel and 500,000 gallons of jet fuel; 100 percent of the fuel needed for the year. Like Ocean Giant, Maersk Perry will deliver its cargo to the ice pier at McMurdo station.
Operation Deep Freeze is a joint service, on-going Defense Support to Civilian Authorities activity in support of the National Science Foundation (NSF), lead agency for the United States Antarctic Program. Mission support consists of active duty, Guard and Reserve personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Army, and Coast Guard as well as Department of Defense civilians and attached non-DOD civilians. ODF operates from two primary locations situated at Christchurch, New Zealand and McMurdo Station, Antarctica. 2016 marks the 61st anniversary of the establishment of McMurdo station and its resupply mission which began in 1955. An MSC-chartered cargo ship and tanker have made the challenging voyage to Antarctica every year since the station and its resupply mission were established in 1955.