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Kerry Chuck at the South Pole.
Photo Courtesy: Kerry Chuck

Kerry Chuck poses at the South Pole, displaying the New Zealand flag at the ceremonial pole behind the research station (above) and standing next to the geographic pole and American flag. Chuck heads the New Zealand Operations for the U.S. Antarctic Program.

Leadoff man

Kerry Chuck heads the New Zealand office for the USAP

New Zealanders are famous the world over for their love of sports, with the rough-and-tumble game of rugby ruling as the national pastime.

But Kerry Chuck — a fit, square-jawed Kiwi who runs the New Zealand Operations for the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) External U.S. government site in Christchurch — has embraced a professional sport played an ocean’s breadth away.

“My love of baseball is related to my very first trip to the Ice,” explains Chuck, taking a pause from a busy week of meetings during a trip to the United States. (The USAP is currently in that familiar “lull” between Antarctic field seasons when plans for logistics support are made and re-made, materials and equipment procured and readied for shipment, and the support crew for the next year hired.)

An officer in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) External Non-U.S. government site, Chuck was headed to Antarctica for survival training in 1992, but weather played its usual havoc on the flight schedule. He was stuck at Wigram Air Base in Christchurch for about a week. New Zealand’s Scott Base External Non-U.S. government site is located near the USAP’s McMurdo Station External U.S. government site, and the two countries share many support services and often collaborate scientifically.

“Every day that the flight got cancelled, I ended up watching a baseball game — the [Atlanta] Braves,” he recalls. “I just enjoyed the way the crowds got into it. I could understand the game because I played softball.”

These days the keen sportsman is no longer an Atlanta Braves fan. He professes allegiance to no particular team, and keeps a tab on the season through playing fantasy baseball with a few mates. “I’m an underdog man. I like to see the underdog win,” he says.

Not a surprising attitude from someone charged with managing the relatively small team responsible for turning one of the key cogs in the USAP logistics machine — the part that moves materials and people between Antarctica and the rest of the world.

“Once the season starts in Christchurch, it’s pretty full on,” Chuck says. “It’s good variety; you get different people every year.”

The USAP office in Christchurch, New Zealand’s Garden City on the South Island, employs 23 people and nine more temporarily for the busy austral summer season. Chuck notes that the workforce also includes New Zealand Defence Force personnel who work in cargo and passenger services, as well as others who support the U.S. flights that go to the Ice — about 120 in total who work for the USAP and its science mission.

Chuck says his job is mainly about community outreach and educating the public about the program. “The people in my office are so well experienced, they pretty much manage themselves,” he says. “Most of them have been there longer than I have and know their jobs extremely well.”

Chuck has led the Christchurch office for six years, after first joining the program in 1997 as an obvious choice to manage air terminal operations, based on his experience in the RNZAF.

A commissioned officer, Chuck left the military after 22 years of service. He held a variety of jobs through his career, including firefighter and physical education instructor, before embarking on an aircrew career as an air loadmaster. His specialty was aviation logistics, and his last assignment as a first lieutenant was serving as the detachment commander for the New Zealand Defence Forces External Non-U.S. government site assigned to Operation Antarctica. That was 1997.

“That’s how I first started in the program,” he says. “I then moved across the road from the RNZAF Air Movements facility to the Administration Building and picked up the job of terminal ops manager.”

The best part of his job? A no-brainer answer, he says. “I think you’ll find the standard answer from people in the program: It’s the people. The camaraderie of all the people that you meet. Everyone is working toward the same goals, very energetic. It’s awesome.”

And any particular part of the job he could do without? Chuck offers a stoic answer: “If you didn’t have anything to complain about, it would be a pretty boring world. I don’t think there’s been too much that I could live without.

“Whatever problems that have been thrown at me I’ve been able to overcome them, or at least understand why they’ve been thrown at me rather than [thinking] it’s not worth addressing.”

The cultural divide between Americans and Kiwis, he insists, isn’t that large.

“I think New Zealand is very much a multicultural country that accepts anybody,” he says. “We don’t worry what race or creed people are; we treat everybody the same.”

“The cultures aren’t that far apart at all,” he adds. “We both like sports, outdoor activities and things like that.”

And especially baseball — well, at least one Kiwi does. That’s a start.

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Curator: Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Winifred Reuning, Division of Polar Programs