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Airman dies on deployment to Antarctica

An airman from the New York Air National Guard died of natural causes Jan. 11 while deployed to Antarctica as part of Operation Deep Freeze.

Staff Sgt. George Girtler, 37, of the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Schenectady, New York, suffered a pulmonary embolism, according to his online obituary.

Girtler died at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Pacific Air Forces said in a Wednesday release. He was serving as an aircraft electrical and environmental specialist at McMurdo with the 139th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.

“We are deeply saddened losing one of our own on the ice,” Col. Christian Sander, vice commander of the 109th, said in the PACAF release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Sgt. Girtler’s family and loved ones. We are grieving together as a wing and community.”

Staff Sgt. George Girtler, 37, died of a pulmonary embolism while deployed to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, in support of Operation Deep Freeze. (Courtesy of DeVito Salvadore Funeral Home)
Staff Sgt. George Girtler, 37, died of a pulmonary embolism while deployed to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, in support of Operation Deep Freeze. (Courtesy of DeVito Salvadore Funeral Home)

Girtler was born in Albany in 1982 and joined the Air National Guard in 2010, according to his obituary. He served one year at Westover Air Reserve Base before transferring to the 109th.

Girtler was an aircraft electrician who served as a crew chief on aircraft such as the C-5 Galaxy, before moving to work on C-130s.

CAMP SUMMIT, Greenland -- Air National Guard aircrew members utilize a jet-assisted takeoff from Camp Summit in April 2003. The ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules is assigned to the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing. JATO provides a few extra knots of speed to pull the aircraft's nose up from skiways on the Greenland ice sheet. (Courtesy photo by Dr. Todd Valentic)
Deep Freeze mission to Antarctica begins

The first of roughly 500 airmen have begun flying in ski-equipped planes to Antarctica to begin the Air Force's annual Operation Deep Freeze mission.

He is survived by his wife, Mary, his high school sweetheart whom he married in 2004, his son, George, and daughter, Peyton. He enjoyed hunting, brewing beer and spending time with his wife and kids, according to his obituary and was known as a hard-working, kind-hearted man.

“The sudden loss of Staff Sgt. Girtler has greatly impacted the McMurdo community and our Antarctic program partners,” said Col. Jamielyn Thompson, deputy commander of Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and teammates during this difficult time.”

The 109th sends about several hundred airmen to Antarctica each year as part of its annual Operation Deep Freeze mission, the military component of the National Science Foundation-run U.S. Antarctic Program.

As part of this operation, airmen from the 109th fly special rocket and ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft, known as “Skibirds,” in and out of Antarctica hundreds of times each year to bring scientists, support, fuel, medical supplies and other necessities to McMurdo Station, which is the logistics hub of the Antarctic program.

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