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Kentucky Airmen fly south for the winter to support scientific research at the bottom of the world

The Kentucky Air National Guard's Tech. Sgt. Ray Graves inspects outbound cargo on an ice runway Dec. 28, 2011, while deployed to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Graves supported Operation Deep Freeze as NCOIC of joint inspection and rigging for the third rotation of the 2011-12 Deep Freeze season. (Courtesy Photo)

The Kentucky Air National Guard's Tech. Sgt. Ray Graves inspects outbound cargo on an ice runway Dec. 28, 2011, while deployed to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Graves supported Operation Deep Freeze as NCOIC of joint inspection and rigging for the third rotation of the 2011-12 Deep Freeze season. (Courtesy Photo)

The Kentucky Air National Guard's Master Sgt. Jason Smith reads a Shippers' Declaration for Dangerous Goods to ensure that a 400-gallon liquid oxygen tank is properly prepared for flight Jan. 18, 2012, while deployed to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Smith is supporting Operation Deep Freeze as NCOIC of joint inspection and rigging for the fourth rotation of the 2011-12 Deep Freeze season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Raymond Graves)

The Kentucky Air National Guard's Master Sgt. Jason Smith reads a Shippers' Declaration for Dangerous Goods to ensure that a 400-gallon liquid oxygen tank is properly prepared for flight Jan. 18, 2012, while deployed to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Smith is supporting Operation Deep Freeze as NCOIC of joint inspection and rigging for the fourth rotation of the 2011-12 Deep Freeze season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Raymond Graves)

A New York Air National Guard LC-130 lands on an ice runway at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, on Jan. 18, 2012, during a resupply sortie flown in support of Operation Deep Freeze. New York requested the assistance of two Kentucky Air National Guardsmen for Deep Freeze, which supports scientific research at the bottom of the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jason Smith)

A New York Air National Guard LC-130 lands on an ice runway at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, on Jan. 18, 2012, during a resupply sortie flown in support of Operation Deep Freeze. New York requested the assistance of two Kentucky Air National Guardsmen for Deep Freeze, which supports scientific research at the bottom of the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jason Smith)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The term "flying south for the winter" usually invokes thoughts of tropical climates and sunny beaches, but the reality couldn't be more different for two Kentucky Air National Guardsmen.

Tech. Sgt. Raymond Graves and Master Sgt. Jason Smith, both assigned to the 123rd Logistics Readiness Squadron here, have been supporting Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica since December, providing assistance to the McMurdo Station scientific research facility located at the bottom of the world.

Blanketed by snow and buffeted by freezing temperatures, McMurdo Station is operated by the National Science Foundation and conducts research into such subjects as astrophysics, biology, geology and climate systems, according to the foundation's web site. The facility is kept functional thanks to Operation Deep Freeze, which tasks the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing with flying resupply missions and airlift sorties across the region using C-130 aircraft that are fitted with landing skis, Graves said.

Graves and Smith are augmenting the 109th from mid December to late February by inspecting cargo slated for transport or airdrop at McMurdo Station and several other, even more remote sites.

"The mission I'm tasked to perform ensures that the supplies the scientists need to survive and perform their research roles are safe for air movement and that these supplies reach them in the quickest possible timeline," said Smith, who serves as NCOIC of joint inspection and rigging for the operation's fourth rotation of the 2011-12 season.

Smith and Graves' responsibilities also include traveling to the remote camps to inspect cargo. After traveling to the geographic South Pole, for example, Graves inspected outbound cargo for proper packing and restraint.

"At these (remote) camps, they have trained contractors who know how to build cargo and restrain it to pallets for military airlift, but they are not manned with a military representative to inspect their cargo prior to getting on the plane," noted Graves, NCOIC of joint inspection and rigging for the operation's third rotation of the 2011-12 season.

"Another responsibility is to ensure that enough parachutes are packed and enough emergency food and fuel are rigged, in case there was the need for emergency airdrop support," he added.

The fact that Kentucky Airmen were selected to augment Deep Freeze is a source of pride for both troops, who say it reflects well on their unit's can-do reputation.

"I believe we were asked by the 109th specifically because on several occasions we have worked together with their personnel and we continue to have a great working relationship with their members," Graves said. "They understand our level of commitment and dedication when it comes to how we approach any mission."