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An Antarctic Adventure

Walking the Pressure Ridges
Walking the Pressure Ridges

March 2017
By Acting Sergeant Ashley Thurston, Cargo Handler

As my Deployment in Antarctica has come to an end, I’ve been able to reflect on my time and the adventure I was able to experience. The Cargo Handler Role at Scott Base is different every day and there have been many challenges that I’ve had to overcome, from the weather to last minute cargo load changes.

When I arrived in Antarctica and stepped off the C-17 Hercules it was to a beautiful day at Pegasus Airfield. All NZDF personnel piled into the back of a Toyota Troopie and headed to ScottBase. The next day I hit the ground running learning my role and the computer system that was involved with it. I was given a handover and headed over the hill to meet my McMurdo counterparts - all 80 of them.

There are multiple tasks that fall under the Scott Base cargo handler, which made my job very versatile. I could be collecting and processing over 100 tonnes of cargo from McMurdo for science events, picking up packages for the base and personnel flown in on the C-17 or C-130, loading the Basler or Twin otters at Willies Field, driving scientists and their samples to the aircraft at Pegasus, collecting baggage for incoming personnel to Scott Base, certifying items that were flying within the continent, helping with the helicopter operations, organising the spreadsheet for all the items that went back in the containers on ship, giving departure briefs, or organising the cargo to fly north, which was over 14 tonne this season.

There was never a dull day in my role and when work was finished for the day it didn’t stop, as I was only here for four and half months I wanted to make the most of what opportunities I was given.

The recreation that is offered is amazing. McMurdo hosts numerous sporting events on each week and I managed to join some indoor football and volleyball teams. There are competitions between the two bases and it was a great feeling when we won the tug-of-war, I won’t mention who won the 5KM Manhualing competition.

The Field trainers/Field Support guys that are here offer trips for us to get off base and see the area. I was lucky enough to go to Cape Evans and Cape Royds to see Shackleton’s and Scott’s huts, as well as Discovery Hut up at Hut point.

I went in a Hagglund ride to see the US Navy plane that crashed at Pegasus, got up Castle Rock, walked the Pressure Ridges to see the seals and learnt to ski at Castle Rock Ski Field. A flight with Southern Lakes helicopters into the Dry Valleys was unforgettable - it was such a surreal place and to see an area that was free of snow and had flowing water in Antarctica was amazing.

Being deployed overseas for Christmas and New Year’s was different, there was only base staff around, so it was very quiet. We celebrated Christmas with a big base dinner and a secret santa of handmade gifts.

Being in the military we were invited to participate in Remembrance Day at McMurdo with fellow US Military personnel. I volunteered for the flag bearer role alongside a US counterpart. This was definitely interesting trying to align our drill, which I managed to convert to a New Zealand drill that made it easy for me. It was good to be a part of the service they held and to see how much their country appreciated their military folk.

I will never forget all these experiences that I was able to have while working in Antarctica, and I am grateful to be part of such a small percentage that are able to come down and support the science is being achieved.

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