They are going out of the ice, and into the fire.
The ice is the polar expanse of the barren continent Antarctica, where men and women in the 109th Airwing Lift of the New York National Guard have flown missions dropping food and science equipment to researchers. The fire is the war-torn terrain of Afghanistan this coming summer.
Before their deployment, the unit will train in tactical night-time maneuvers on their massive LC-130 Hercules planes, nearly grazing treetops around the local area as they practice the kind of landing they'll need to do to avoid missiles when touching down in hostile foreign territory. They'll cover the bright orange paint striping the bottoms of their planes with camouflage, so that they won't be identified as they hover above makeshift landing strips littered with debris. Touchy landings at best, the unit will also drill on safely bringing down the planes, which are so cavernous they can carry 50,000 tons of cargo, or load a Humvee straight from the battlefields.
Military officials were tight-lipped last week when they announced the mission, not releasing when, exactly, the troops will fly out, what they'll be doing, or how many of the 1,300 people in active duty at the base will be leaving home for war within a few months time. How long they will remain in the country is also a military secret.
Father of three heads out
The deployment has not been a secret to Major Mike Steindl of Greenwich, Washington County. Steindl received word about two months ago that he and his crew will be flying the Hercules into Afghanistan sometime this summer. Steindl, 36, the father of three young children and husband of a teacher, is a former United Airlines pilot. He has flown on combat support missions, including several to Haiti, but those were peaceful operations; this flight will be his first taste of combat conditions.