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Hello, From South of Wherever You Are

LAC Leigh Douglas - Barne Glacier, Antarctica

February 2017
By Leading Aircraftman Leigh Douglas

Four RNZAF personnel deployed as part of an eight-strong New Zealand Defence Force contingent to Antarctica to continue our commitment to provide logistical support to the New Zealand Antarctic programme. The roles the RNZAF personnel fill are cargo handler and communication operators. 

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We flew down on an American C-17 aircraft, and the moment we stepped off the plane on to the ice it took my breath away - not only from the -35C temperature that greeted us, but the sheer size and beauty of this place.
 
Scott Base is a maze of interconnected green buildings, which I now call home. During our first few days on the ice we all had to complete Antarctic field training, which consisted of building a field kitchen and sleeping the night in a polar tent.

My role is communications operator, which is not my day to day job in New Zealand – as a result, there were a few giggles in the beginning as I found my feet. In the first few weeks, as we were preparing for the start of the summer season and the frenzy of scientists it was going to bring, I was lucky enough to get a flight over to the Dry Valleys on mainland Antarctica, to help install a radio repeater. This is vital to maintain communications with the deep field science parties.

The flight provided stunning views but they were nothing compared to the beauty and grandeur of the Valleys themselves.

Day-to-day life here in the communications office is rather busy, with scheduled radio updates from the field parties checking their welfare and passing messages back and forth, answering phone calls to Scott Base and being the source of all knowledge for new scientists about where to find things.

We run a 24/7 service, which involves working a rotating roster of three morning shifts, three afternoon shifts and three night shifts. The night shifts are made considerably easier by the fact that the sun never sets, and shines as brightly at night as it does at lunchtime.
 
The non-stop daylight has other benefits, such as whatever time you finish work you can still go out for a walk and explore the local scenery without having to worry about it getting dark. A few of the local walks include going on to the sea-ice to look at the pressure ridges and sunbathing Weddell seals, up Observation Hill to the memorial of Captain Scott’s polar party, and to the square frame, which is New Zealand’s southernmost bach, and over the hill to McMurdo, the American base.

Another highlight so far is a day trip out to Cape Royds to visit Shackleton’s hut and Scott’s hut at Cape Evans. These huts provide such a dramatic step back into the heroic era of exploration in Antarctica. They are so well preserved you almost felt guilty for looking around, because it felt like the men had just walked out and would be back any moment to catch you snooping around their house.

The scenery on the trip to these huts is difficult to put into words – the Barne Glacier rises abruptly 300m from the sea ice, making the Hagglunds vehicles look like Lego toys.

Although we are only one month into our time down here, I am sure the following months will go just as quickly, and we will return home with many interesting experiences to share.

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