The petty officer second class, an Augusta native and graduate of Hephzibah High School, was among 59 sailors from Navy Cargo Battalion 1 who carried out this year's Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica.
"When we got to Antarctica, we were dropped off in a field covered with snow and we couldn't see anything but mountains everywhere," the 28-year-old said. "It was a beautiful scene."
The crew left Richmond, Va., for McMurdo Station, Antarctica, on Jan. 25 and returned in mid-February.
Operation Deep Freeze is a vital annual mission to deliver 29,000 tons of supplies including food, equipment and medicine for researchers who live year-round on the ice continent.
The crew returned with ice core samples that will provide scientists with information about the composition of the atmosphere thousands of years ago. Because waste can't be disposed of on the continent because of the Antarctic Treaty, a year's worth of waste was also brought back.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Mitchell's duty for the operation was to direct the crane operator in unloading and loading the cargo onto their ship, the American Tern.
"We worked in day and night shifts, but since it stayed daylight all the time, it was hard to say that it was a night shift," he said. "The only way that we could tell that it was day or night was that when you started work, the sun would be on one side of you and when you finished, the sun would be on the other side."
To work efficiently in that type of weather, the crew had to wear clothing and boots made for extreme cold weather, the sailor said.
"We were told that it was going to be cold, so we were a bit prepared and had an idea of what to expect," he said. "It wasn't quite ice cold, but it was very cold."
Though work was nearly constant, Petty Officer 2nd Class Mitchell set aside time to make phone calls to his mother, Betty Mitchell, and his three children: Khala, 9; Dyshawn Jr., 6; and Khalin, 19 months.
"During a conversation, my son asked me to bring home a penguin," he said with a laugh.
The crew also had the opportunity to hike in the mountains, visit sites where other sailors had died carrying out Operation Deep Freeze and tour the hut of Robert Falcon Scott, an early 1900s Antarctic explorer.
"It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I'll never forget," the sailor said. "Now, I can say that I've been to the ice -- the real ice."
Reach Nikasha Dicks at (706) 823-3336 or email@example.com.
- The U.S. Navy has participated in Operation Deep Freeze since 1955.
- Sailors are chosen based on their performance during the past year.
- Of the 59-sailor crew, 12 were women.
- The youngest sailor was 18 years old. The oldest was 42.