Deep Freeze Airmen warm New Zealand community's heart

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nick Przybyciel
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Standing onboard the C-17 Globemaster III April 17, five-year-old Benjamin Laury is trying to put everything together.

With a child's enthusiasm, he's talking about elephants, storm troopers and how cool pilots are - all in a single, convoluted sentence. As part of a home-schooling group invited to check out the enormous airplane that just flew into their corner of the world, Benjamin and his friends are trying to make sense of what they're being told.

Their hosts - Reserve and active-duty Airmen from the 446th and 62nd Airlift Wings - are having a blast, creating analogies about their jobs and getting a fair share of "oohs" and "awes" out of their young guests. They're professionals at making this tour engaging for children, having conducted about 50 of them this year alone.

For six months every year, a group of total force Airmen from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., flies supplies to a National Science Foundation research center in Antarctica as part of Operation Deep Freeze. In between sorties, they go well beyond the call of duty to demonstrate their appreciation to the community they stage out of, Christchurch, New Zealand.

When not on duty sharing the Air Force story with New Zealand children, the Deep Freeze crews help in their off-duty time and as a private endeavor to raise funds for local charities. Since beginning this effort three years ago, they've donated around $14,000 to Christchurch organizations.

Chief Master Sgt. James Masura, a Reserve loadmaster from the 446th Airlift Wing who has been flying Deep Freeze missions since 1999, heads-up the community spirit displayed by American Airmen in New Zealand.

"It's just a rewarding way to help these kids out. The Christchurch community does so much to help us out, that we feel a real need to give back," he said.

Donations this year included a 42-inch plasma screen television and video game console to a children's ward in a local hospital. Before the donation, children would wait for up to 12 hours after treatments with only a tiny television to watch, said Lt. Col. James McGann, commander of the C-17 Deep Freeze missions.

"The entire staff was overwhelmed at the generosity of the U.S. Antarctic Program, and was excited the children had something to look forward to when coming to the hospital," Colonel McGann said. "It was a great day not only for the kids, but for the entire U.S. program."

Deep Freeze crews also gave $8,000 in privately-raised donations to two other children's charities - the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Children's Hope Trust.

"Their actions showcase not only the generosity of the U.S. Antarctic Program, but the (Airmen of) the U.S. military and Americans as a whole," said Colonel McGann. "While in-and-of themselves, donations and tours may not bring enormous change, they are helping to make many children's lives better and more fulfilling."

Although the Deep Freeze season mostly wrapped-up March 1, a crew that flew here this week for one final mission still found time to squeeze in a few tours.

"It's great for the children to get an appreciation of the work these guys do," said Nick Laurey, Benjamin's father.

Benjamin is definitely gaining some sort of appreciation, albeit a much different one from his father. It was just explained to him by Capt. Corey Simmons, a pilot from the 62nd Airlift Wing, that the cargo on the C-17 weighed as much as four elephants. Benjamin must have missed a part of the speech, because he has it in his head that actual elephants are packed away beneath all the boxing and cellophane wrapping protecting the cargo. Making matters even more confusing for poor Benjamin is that Captain Simmons resembles a storm trooper to him.

Now, Benjamin is trying to figure out what the storm trooper is doing with all those elephants wrapped-up on the plane.

After a bit more of an explanation, Benjamin gets the fact that the cargo destined for Antarctica is not literally elephants. But with stubborn insistence, he refuses to acknowledge that Captain Simmons is indeed just a pilot.

Captain Simmons realizes every-day military terms need to be jazzed up a bit to engage a young audience, and knows full well that a bit of confusion is inevitable.

"I just try to put it in terms they understand. Eight-thousand pounds means nothing to them. But, four elephants does," he said. "The kids see a big airplane and lots of bells and whistles. What you're trying to do is put it in perspective for them, but even then, it doesn't always click."

One perspective that does click is a look at what C-17 crews from McChord have accomplished this year with Operation Deep Freeze.

So far during the 2007-2008 season, McChord C-17s have flown 57 missions to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, from Christchurch, New Zealand, carrying more than 3.1 million pounds of cargo and more than 2,800 passengers. On the return missions from the frozen sea shelf of McMurdo, C-17 aircrews flew more than 850,000 pounds of cargo and 2,700 passengers back to Christchurch.