On the other side of Deep Freeze

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jake Chappelle
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Imagine a treading through a dark, compact, and seemingly endless tunnel, constructed of ice and snow. Now, add a 60 below zero temperature to the mix. Of course, you're wrapped from head to toe in high quality cold-weather garments. 

Despite being fortified in the top-of-the-line, cold-weather gear, it doesn't prevent the massive buildup of frost on your eyelashes. 

The icicles cramming the ceiling extend so low that you have to almost crouch to make your way through the tunnel, but you also have to hug to the right of the tunnel because the insulated plumbing piping and electrical wiring take up almost the entire left side. 

Staff Sgt. Kara Waldher, an electrician apprentice in her civilian career, does it every day at South Pole Station, Antarctica and has the time of her life. Her work supports the National Science Foundation. 

"I help maintain the power on the installation from the new South Pole Telescope down to each light bulb," said Sergeant Waldher. "One day, I might be installing a furnace in a tent. The next day, I might be installing a power substation for a telescope." 

Sergeant Waldher made her most recent commute to the South Pole Station, Oct. 21, via a C-17 flown by a mix crew from the 446th and 62nd Airlift Wing. 

The two McChord wings have support Operation Deep Freeze for the past 10 years, dropping off NSF personnel and supplies. 

Sergeant Waldher, an aircraft electrician with the 446th Maintenance Squadron here, is scheduled to return to the relative warmth of Washington Jan. 25. 

This isn't the first time Sergeant Waldher has been on the ice. She first worked at the South Pole station Oct. 6 2007 to Jan. 10 2008. 

This tour, she is on a team of six electricians, half of whom share a similar background. 

"Half of the electricians I work with are former military," said Sergeant Waldher. "We can relate to each other and it gives us a lot of stuff to talk about." 

Despite working with some former military, Sergeant Waldher says she's fortunate to have her current Reserve background. 

"I was the only Reservist at South Pole Station," said Sergeant Waldher. "Everyone there respects me a lot, because of my military background. The people think I'm tough when they find out I'm in the military." 

Sergeant Waldher's civilian and military occupations have their differences. 

"Planes are different than buildings," said Sergeant Waldher. "(Air Force) Maintenance follows the technical orders down to the 'T.' In the civilian world, you make it work. We work nine-hour days, six days a week at South Pole Station, plus unpaid overtime." 

Regardless of the tight schedule, intense climate, and having the great responsibility of maintaining installation power, Sergeant Waldher balances it with job gratification and the flexibility of being in the Reserve. 

"I love working here," said Sergeant Waldher. "The people are fascinating. They have great stories and I learn a lot from them. I feel very fortunate to be assigned to the 446th MXS, because they give me the flexibility to have a job like this."