National Guard contingent leaves Stratton base for Antarctica

For more than two decades, the guard has assisted the foundation's research mission at the polar cap

With a labored roar, a lumbering LC-130 heaved through a light rain into the gray horizon at the Stratton Air National Guard base this morning, starting the first leg of a journey to the nether reaches of the globe.

In about five days, the guard members will land in Antarctica, where summer is just beginning. Temperatures on the frozen continent are expected to reach a relatively balmy -50 degrees this month, allowing crews to start setting up equipment for researchers with the National Science Foundation.

For more than two decades, the guard has assisted the foundation’s research mission at the polar cap. And to some extent, the barren landscape is like a second home for the 109th Air Lift Wing’s veteran aviators.

“It’s our home away from home,” said Lt. Col. Mike Steindl, who is among roughly 700 soldiers making the journey to the guard base at McMurdo Sound this year. “Every time I get back, it’s just like I left it.”

Of course, that doesn’t make the mission any easier. With hardly any visual cues on the polar landscape and with harsh weather patterns that can blow in any time, piloting the mammoth ski planes over Antarctica is always a challenge.

“It can be a beautiful day down there and then, at a moment;s notice, the weather can change,” said Col. Timothy LaBarge, the 109th’s commander. “Sometimes you can’t even see people standing in front of you.”

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