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The frozen desert; a different kind of deployment

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Peter Thompson
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Imagine the harshest, coldest, windiest and least hospitable place you can. Now put yourself there, in the most unpredictable environment on earth, responsible for the wellbeing of hundreds of people for several months with limited resources.

The 7th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Chief of Flight Medicine, Maj. Andrew Allen did just that. Allen was deployed in support of Operation Deep Freeze at McMurdo Station, a research center located on the shore of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Operation Deep Freeze is the logistical support provided by the Department of Defense to the U.S Antarctic Program.

As a flight surgeon, Allen's primary mission was to support the flying mission for Operation Deep Freeze by providing medical care for aviators and military personnel on station. Additionally, he supported casualty evacuation and patient movement across the continent.

Due to the extreme remoteness of McMurdo Station, each trip to Antarctica requires careful planning and coordination. Conditions are continuously monitored due to unpredictable and quick-changing weather to ensure the safety of aircraft, ships, cargo, passengers and crews while deployed in support of Operation Deep Freeze.

Although there are distinct differences between working in garrison and the world's southernmost continent, Allen believes much of what he does at Dyess prepared him for the mission he faced day-in and day-out.

"At McMurdo we have to be ready to manage the most severe of illnesses or injuries at a moment's notice and provide stabilization until air transportation can be secured," Allen said. "The main differences between the two locations lay in the amount of resources available to me and of course the environment of operations. Much of what I have done at Dyess prepared me for this and any other deployment. From day-to-day clinical management of routine health care matters to offering comprehensive preventive and occupational medicine services."

Allen first learned of the programs in Antarctica while he was serving as a cavalry scout in the Army. Although he knew it was not possible for him to participate at the time, the seeds of desire were nevertheless sown in his mind. After a few years, he decided to follow in his father's footsteps and cross into the blue. In 2006, while attending the Aerospace Medicine Primary course, Allen committed himself to one day experiencing Antarctica. Several years later his opportunity arose. After submitting his application and package to U.S. Pacific Air Forces for an active duty flight surgeon position, he received the call, which launched him into living out one of his dreams.

Along with his staff members 1st. Lt. Jessica Dodson, 137th Air Evacuation Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Cardin, 18th Air Evacuation Squadron, Allen opened the clinic at 6:30 a.m. to accommodate the nearly 1,200 current residents. When they were not busy with walk-ins, follow up appointments, studying or training, the team had opportunities to observe some of the most beautiful landscapes known to man.

"When I get off-duty, I like to walk to the edge of the island and take photos of the penguins, seals and whales that come to visit us," Allen said. "I've had the blessed opportunity to take part in the unique challenges and experiences this place presents."

After achieving the once-in-a-life-time opportunity as Allen has, others might sit back and relax. Allen, on the other hand, has miles to go before he sleeps.

"My entire Air Force career has been focused on learning to care for those in harm's way, and I relish the challenge of caring for both our military and civilian population in this most extreme environment. I believe that my experiences here will greatly enhance my ability to care for our nation's warriors," Allen said. "I find that our country and military provide opportunities for anybody to succeed at the highest of levels. I hope to one day be able to say that I started as a private, and finished as a major command-level surgeon."