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New Jersey Airman ventures to Antarctica, supports science mission

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- While most people were prepping for the holidays this past season, New Jersey Air National Guardsman Master Sgt. Justin Rogers was returning home from an iced adventure in Antarctica.

“I like to travel and this was a way to do my job and see new things,” said Rogers, an occupational safety specialist of the 108th Wing, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

It was Rogers’ readiness that allowed him to take advantage of this unique opportunity.

“You get to work with the National Science Foundation,” said Rogers. “There is zero military mission out there.” But the NSF does receive airlift support from the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton ANGB, N.Y.

“I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to [backfill] the 109th as their Safety Manager at McMurdo Station,” Rogers said.

Since 1959, the signing of the Antarctica Treaty recognized Antarctica as a land of peace, not to become “a scene or object of international discord”. It also allowed a small group of volunteers to assist the NSF in carrying out their purpose during a six-month period, the most opportune time for aircrafts to land. As a result, only a select few are chosen.

“I applied three years in a row, but was chosen this year, my forth year,” Rogers said. “Either they sensed I really wanted to go and saw that I was qualified, or they just finally picked me, but either way, I was happy to assist.”

Through persistence, Rogers spent 42 days in what is considered the third rotation for eligible members looking to volunteer.

Air Force Specialty Codes, such as safety, services, information technology/ communications, and aircraft maintenance personnel, are all assembled to help members conduct effective research there. Rogers’ job of risk management included monitoring flights coming in, as well as monitoring a safe offloading of each LC-130 Skibird and C-17 Globemaster.

With a campus that sat on frozen volcanic rock, the station, similar to a base, was set up to resemble a small town, said Rogers. It included several buildings within walking distance of each other and one which boasted a bar-like atmosphere for light recreation.

The sun shined 24-hours a day, which was an adjustment, said Rogers, on top of the fact that Antarctica was a day and six hours ahead of his hometown in New Jersey.

“I would watch Sunday night football on a Tuesday at 2 a.m.,” said Rogers.

In addition to the accomplishment of reporting safe arrivals and departures, he was able to explore the unknown territory, visiting the geographic South Pole, a preserved exhibit of Antarctica’s first settler, and regularly witnessing wild sea lions bathe in the sun.

Rogers wants others to know that if they are interested in an opportunity such as this, they must first be fit to fight. “See if there is a need for your AFSC, check for an augmentee list, and speak with your chain of command,” said Rogers. “Or just come by the 108th Safety Office to ask me and I can tell you more about the process.”

While there, Rogers noted that he met an astrophysicist working in the NSF’s galley/ kitchen, “cleaning my dishes! She just wanted to experience Antarctica. So, there is definitely a way.”

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