SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.- --
On the far side of the world, Master Sgt. Barry Karpinski carries out the 50th Space Wing’s vision working in Antarctica as part of Operation Deep Freeze.
Karpinski is a member of the 21st Space Operations Squadron, a Schriever Geographically Separated Unit. He deployed from his assignment at Kaena Point Air Force Tracking Station, Hawaii, to serve in Joint Task Force - Support Forces Antarctica for ODF.
ODF is the U.S. military’s logistical support component for the National Science Foundation-managed U.S. Antarctic Program, which conducts widespread research of the region.
Karpinski’s job focuses on acting as a mission-support representative and information technology coordinator.
“I spend a lot of time with the various shops, helping out in different areas accomplishing whatever task is at hand,” said Karpinski. “I assist with anything from email, computer repair to preparing information for various distinguished visitors.”
He assists approximately 100 personnel at their workstations, as well as 1,200 personnel at nearby McMurdo Station and outlying field camps.
Aside from being a mission support representative, he is also a 50 SW representative, the only Schriever GSU Airman on the continent.
“I am the only one from there (Kaena Point),” said Karpinski. “This mission is extremely important for me. The 21st Space Operations squadron and the 50th Space Wing supports and directs multiple satellites across the world.”
Inclement weather conditions and limited communications posed a significant problem for Karpinski, whose job entails maintaining computers linking the site to the outside world.
“Of course there is the cold, however, the Internet really is a challenge. Our whole site runs off a 18 megabyte per second connection, from phones to email. The smallest internet package available in Colorado is a 25 megabyte per second connection. Now imagine 750-1,200 computers plugged into your home network. So I answer a lot of questions on why the network is so slow,” said Karpinski.
In remote Antarctica, having communications is a feat provided by the 21 SOPS. The unit’s satellite operations provides a critical window of external connectivity for on-ice personnel like Karpinski to do their jobs.
“In Antarctica, most satellite coverage is only available for a few hours a day, anything from South Pole Communications, to the Land Traverse team, delivering much needed supplies and fuel, heavily rely on every data byte of info they receive in that short period of time,” said Karpinski.
This support helps with the varied USAP mission, which includes projects such as the New York Air National Guard assisting the NSF in pulling cosmic dust from the air, to University of Chicago students collecting fossils in the arid McMurdo Dry Valleys.
For Karpinski, this establishment of professionals, both military and civilian, adds to the uniqueness of his deployment.
“The whole town functions like an old community, where everyone knows each other,” he said.
His coworkers range from inexperienced college students to accomplished Ivy League scientists and senior ranking military officers.
“It’s world-class science in one of the most demanding environments,” said Chaplain (Col.) David Larsen, JTF-SFA chaplain. “Everyone is on a first name basis. It’s part mining camp, part college campus.”
However, the challenges of this unique environment still causes problems.
“Having 24-hours of continuous sun really does a number on sleep patterns,” said Senior Master Sgt. Bruce Strong, JTF-SFA safety manager. “I tried quite a few different types of things to overcome my sleep issues. I tried yoga.”
Larsen had his own tips to share when dealing with Antarctica’s weather.
“You need to hydrate a lot and wear layered clothing. Also put a foil over your bedroom window (to block out the sun),” said Larsen.
This environment provides a backdrop for Karpinski’s work, which, coupled with the 21 SOPS communications services, shows the extensive reach of Schriever GSU operations and its effectiveness on the world stage.
“It’s a great experience,” said Karpinski. “I truly believe we need to keep Antarctica as pure as possible, allowing scientific research to continue where our past can guide our future.”