Antarctic tales: A Two Star Jogger

Darrel Westbrook

In October, 1979, in my second year as Commander, Naval Support Force, Antarctica (Operation Deep Freeze), during the first week of the changeover from winter-over to summer operations, we had a short notice VIP visit from a brand new RADM from BUPERS. His purpose was to talk to our winter-over personnel about their hardships during their long periods of isolation before they returned to duty in CONUS. Then he would visit Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean and do the same thing there. This was a bad time for a VIP visit - people were moving in and trying to get back to normal summer routine.

The RADM’s reputation as a runner was passed on to me by my brother who had served with him before when the RADM was CO of a carrier. The RADM was billeted in my quarters and told me he was going to go jogging first thing next morning. He was scheduled for a briefing at 0900 next morning, so I didn’t foresee any problem. I was just getting up when I heard him go out the door.

McMurdo did not have a Master-at-Arms organization. This function was performed by the McMurdo Fire Department, composed mostly of aviation and general service boatswain’s mates and other strikers. At the time of the RADM’s jog, two of these firemen were making a routine patrol of McMurdo and vicinity in their pickup truck. They were quite surprised when they saw a lone figure jogging on the snow road on the ice-covered McMurdo Sound toward the ice runway six miles away. The firemen went in pursuit of this clear violation of the two-man rule for any activity on the ice sheet. As they pulled alongside the jogger, they told him in typical bosun mate language to “get you’re a—in the truck!” The jogger replied, “but I am a RADM---“. The bosun mate replied, “I don’t give a d--- if you’re John Paul Jones — get you’re a— in the truck!” Of course, he complied.

When the RADM returned to my quarters, he never said a word about this episode. Later on in the day, when the RADM’s presence became widely known, the two bosun mates realized what they had done. They confessed to the Fire Chief, a warrant bosun, and they waited for the retribution they figured was coming. After 2-3 days, the RADM’s mission was accomplished and he departed for Diego Garcia. Only then did the Fire Chief tell me what had happened. Initially, I was upset, but then realized I was at fault for not telling him about jogging on the ice shelf. The 12 plus miles he had planned to cover before breakfast caught me by surprise — I expected a jog around McMurdo like most people did. But — all’s well that ends well. It was a good sea story that was told many times in the various clubs of McMurdo.