Air Guard begins year-long exhibit at local theater to promote its mission, USAP
Posted August 15, 2008
German filmmaker Werner Herzog isn’t the only one hitting theaters with a message about Antarctica this summer.
The New York Air Natural Guard began a yearlong engagement at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, N.Y., in August to raise public awareness about its mission in the U.S. Antarctic Program , as well as draw attention to the ongoing International Polar Year (IPY) .
The outreach program brings together the Guard, the local community at the city’s performing arts center and officials from the National Science Foundation (NSF) , according to Lt. Col. George Alston, chief of aircrew training for the 109th Airlift Wing, based at the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, N.Y.
“It’s really fascinating to see the different cultures coming together — the arts community at Proctors, the military community and the science community at NSF — because we all see the common good of educating children and focusing on the future,” said Alston, the chief architect of the educational program. “It’s really a joy to be a part of it.”
Proctors Theatre, which features a new 436-seat Iwerks Extreme Screen™ movie theater (think Imax), has agreed to screen the documentary “Antarctica: An Adventure of a Different Nature” three times a week for the next 12 months. The film, directed by John Weiley, originally premiered in IMAX theatres in 1991, and includes a little bit of everything one would expect in a documentary about Antarctica — wildlife, history and science.
A ski from the landing gear of an LC-130 aircraft, the planes flown by the 109th in the Arctic and Antarctic, will be the centerpiece of an accompanying exhibit at the theater complex. The display in the main hall will also include examples of extreme cold weather survival gear, jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) bottles, and photographs of Antarctica.
A member of the Guard will speak to schoolchildren at many of the showings of the film to offer a firsthand account of what it’s like to work in Antarctica for a program the Guard calls “Access Antarctica.”
Philip Morris, chief executive officer at Proctors Theatre, said the community not only has a strong artistic background, but it is also home to a host of science and technology companies, largely thanks to the presence of General Electric. The collaboration between the theater and the Guard seemed only natural, he said.
“The 109th was perfect,” he noted. “Who else would you want as your neighbor when you’re showing a film about Antarctica? And because of the science background of the community, it’s fabulous to have the kinds of speakers and stuff that’s being talked about.”
The theatre complex, which has undergone $40 million in renovations and expansions in the last five years, sees upwards of half a million visitors each year.
“We have that big [airplane] ski in the main [hallway], where just about everybody is going to see it,” Alston said. “It’s going to be great exposure for the 109th and for NSF, and to get some attention for the International Polar Year.”
In addition to the film and exhibit, Alston is recruiting officials from NSF to speak at Proctors for a monthly lecture series, which will also include personnel from the 109th.
Jerry Marty, Facilities Construction and Maintenance manager with the Office of Polar Programs , was one of the first at the NSF to sign up for a speaking engagement. Marty said it’s important for U.S. taxpayers to learn about how their money supports scientific research. He oversaw a 10-year project to construct a new research station at the South Pole.
“The 109th exhibit at the Proctors Theater affords an opportunity for NSF [to] tell the new South Pole station story, the magnitude and challenges of the project at the bottom of the world, and the work ethic and esprit de corps of the project team,” he said.
“It is hoped that within the audience there may be a future scientist, engineer, and operations manager, or an LC-130 pilot or support individuals who will attend college and follow in our footsteps by representing the next generation of the USAP,” Marty added.
Morris said Proctors has a strong educational program that reaches 30 school districts, representing about 50,000 school-age kids. The organizers expect to draw between 15,000 and 18,000 of them to the Antarctica film. Alston said the Guard would also offer weekly tours of its base, including an opportunity for the kids to climb aboard an LC-130.
The 109th Airlift Wing has supported the USAP since 1988 in collaboration with the U.S. Navy’s Operation Deep Freeze. It has flown scientific and military missions to Greenland and the Arctic since 1975. The wing operates the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, the only group with ski-equipped aircraft.
In 1999, the 109th assumed sole responsibility for the mission from the Navy for missions on the continent, and between New Zealand and McMurdo Station. The 62nd Airlift Wing out of McChord Air Force Base in Washington state provides additional airlift between New Zealand and McMurdo Station for the program using the wheeled C-17 Globemaster III.
Alston explained the collaboration between the Guard and Proctors grew out of a fundraiser he was involved with while working for General Electric that helped sponsor the GE Theatre, which joined two other venues at the complex in 2007.
“As soon as I heard about this theater coming into existence, and I already knew about the movie, I [thought] what a perfect opportunity for the 109th to get word about our mission, and also highlight the great work Proctors Theater does,” he said.