Doing the Lord's work at the South Pole
By Lt. Col. William Yates, 181 IW/HC
/ Published February 19, 2009
McMurdo Station, Antarctica --
I am writing this note from McMurdo Station in Antarctica. My duties include ministering to personnel at the South Pole. The new station was dedicated in 2007. Everything needed to build it was hauled on Air National Guard LC-130H skibirds. It's an amazing feat!
Once you're on the polar plateau, the mountains and glaciers collapse into a flat and monotonous plain. The horizon blurs into the snow fields for what looks like an infinite ocean of white and grey. A researcher at a field camp there once said: "I went for a walk to check out the view, but then I realized that unless I go another 500 miles, it's kind of pointless - it all looks the same!" On my way to the Pole, I was on the flight deck taking pictures out the cockpit windows. I glanced at the gauges and noticed that all the compasses were pointing north. "That's weird," I thought. So I tapped the aircraft commander on the shoulder and asked: "Why are we heading north if we're going to the South Pole?" He immediately opened up the intercoms -- called his navigator, flight engineer and crew chief. He acted like there was an in-flight emergency. I'm listening to all the chatter as they blamed everyone and his brother for the mistake. This went on for a short time until suddenly everything stopped, things got quiet, and they all started laughing. They were just messing with me. That day I learned the Air National Guard can do something no one else can do: we can fly "north" to reach the South Pole. Amazing!
Actually, no one uses a compass in Antarctica. They go haywire because the magnetic South Pole is off the continent in the Southern Ocean, far north from where we operate. So the Air Force has imposed an artificial circular grid over the entire continent below 60° S. That way all planes can fly a heading of 360° "due north" and end up at the South Pole. I will never forget that simple solution to Antarctic navigation. It also illustrates a spiritual value. Character has been defined as: "One's moral compass: those qualities of moral excellence which move a person to do the right thing despite pressures or temptations to the contrary." There are many pressures and temptations in life that will operate on you like Magnetic South - trying to pull you in the wrong direction, take you out to sea and possibly drown you. But when we overlay our lives with a moral grid ("True North") then we can navigate any territory and be able to arrive at our proper destination. There is a saying, "Knowing what to do must be translated into doing what you know." It's not always easy to sort that out. Life can get confusing and complex. We wonder, "Which way should I go?" If you are dealing with a problem like that, stop by or call us. As fellow travelers, seeking to follow True North, we're there to listen, support and help.