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CAP Remembers a Cadet's Antarctic Expedition During National Aerospace Week

September 16, 2021

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Cadet Maj. Robert N. Barger during the 1956 joint Navy-Air Force Operation Deep Freeze in the Antarctic.
(Source: Col Louisa S. Morse Center for CAP History)

by Capt. Brandon Lunsford, CAP

Jenks, Okla (September 15, 2021) – In 1956 then 18-year-old Civil Air Patrol Cadet Maj. Robert N. Barger was selected as the only representative from among the 50,000 cadets in the CAP cadet corps to participate in the joint Navy-Air Force Operation Deep Freeze in the Antarctic.

Cadet Barger departed the continental United States in route to the advance base at McMurdo Sound in Oct., 1956. He lived with an 80-man Air Force team; the most extensive polar expedition ever attempted at the time. According to historical documents, the team’s mission was to airlift supplies over the polar icecap to set up and maintain a base at the South Pole.

“I accompanied a detachment of the 52nd Troop Carrier Squadron, a part of the 63rd Cargo Transport Wing of the 18th Air Force, to Antarctica,” Barger stated in his memoirs. 

In addition to making several resupply flights over the Pole in huge C-124 Globemasters, the cadet was one of four volunteers who tested new Air Force and Navy survival gear in the frigid Antarctic waters.

“One of my vivid memories from my time ‘down on the ice’ was my participation in a test of new Navy survival suits,” Barger stated. “Four of us wore these suits and swam with them on in a little lagoon which had been carved out of McMurdo Sound by the United States Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind. I was able to stay in the water for only 10 minutes, since my suit developed a leak!”

Barger also visited Little America station, near Kainan Bay, which served as a supply base and terminus of a 630-mile long ‘highway’ to Byrd station in the continent’s interior.

“At Little America the buildings were all below the surface because they had been covered by blowing snow,” Barger said. “Tunnels connected the buildings. I remember that walking through them from one building to another was like walking inside a large ice cave and it was cold!”

On return to the United States from Antarctica, Barger was privileged to have a personal meeting with President Dwight Eisenhower in the Oval Office of the White House.

“I presented him with a plaque on which was mounted a pony shoe from Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition,” stated Barger. “This was a British expedition which took place earlier in the century. I will never forget how kindly he (Eisenhower) was in carrying on the conversation and putting me right at home.”

CAP cadets are young leaders who think seriously about their futures. They may not yet know exactly what they want to do in adult life, but they're test-flying potential career interests. CAP activities are designed to explore civilian and military aerospace careers, provide flight training, develop leadership and enhance emergency services skills.

The origins of the Civil Air Patrol story began in 1936, when Gill Robb Wilson, World War I aviator and New Jersey director of aeronautics, returned from Germany convinced of impending war. Wilson envisioned mobilizing America’s civilian aviators for national defense. The proposal for a Civil Air Patrol was approved by Commerce, Navy, and War departments and CAP national headquarters opened its doors Dec. 1. In January 1942, U-boats started attacking the shipping lanes along our east coast. By June, enemy attacks destroyed nearly 400 merchant vessels and oil tankers off the U.S. Atlantic coastline, often within sight of our shores. Civil Air Patrol was called into action by a short-handed military. With privately owned airplanes armed with light bombs, civilian volunteers became the eyes of the home skies, flying a total of 244,600 hours patrolling and safeguarding America's coastline, aiding the safe movement of war material to the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. Today’s Civil Air Patrol may look different, but its core remains the same. It continues to support America’s communities with emergency response, diverse aviation and ground services, youth development and promotion of air, space and cyber power.

To learn more about Oklahoma Wing, visit okwg.cap.gov.

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About Civil Air Patrol
Now celebrating its 80th year, Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and as such is a member of its Total Force. In its auxiliary role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 single-engine Cessna aircraft and more than 2,000 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) and performs about 90% of all search and rescue operations within the contiguous United States as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Often using innovative cellphone forensics and radar analysis software, CAP was credited by the AFRCC with saving 130 lives during the past fiscal year. CAP’s 60,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. As a nonprofit organization, CAP plays a leading role in aerospace education using national academic standards-based STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Members also serve as mentors to 24,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs.

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