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Midshipman “Walks Around the World” at South Pole

Posted on: January 14, 2014 08:00 EST by Midshipman 1st Class Colleen Randolph

Midshipman 1st Class Jillian Coughlin got an exceptionally white Christmas this year, but not the kind you might expect in her hometown of Annapolis, Md. Coughlin, an honors oceanography major and French minor, spent her holiday far from the comforts of home on an arctic adventure to the South Pole.

“The purpose of my trip was to travel down to Antarctica with the National Science Foundation via the Air National Guard and have the opportunity to interact with scientists and researchers who are currently located at McMurdo Station and the South Pole,” said Coughlin.

Coughlin additionally had the unique opportunity to tour the Crary Lab and conduct personal interviews with all the scientists stationed on base.

Coughlin will enter the surface warfare (SWO) community after graduation, with the opportunity to transfer into the meteorology and oceanography (METOC) community once she qualifies for her SWO pin. She was selected for the South Pole trip because of her exceptional skills both in and out of the classroom.

She believes the experience opened her eyes to the intensity and dedication of the researchers and got her excited about graduate education.

“I can only hope that whenever I attend grad school that I will get the opportunity to do some field work that is equally compelling,” she said.

Coughlin knows that there was more to her trip than simply learning to research. One of her favorite experiences was touring Arthurs Pass in New Zealand and appreciating all of the beauty that surrounded her.

“There were snow-covered peaks, waterfalls, and 500-foot dropoffs about three feet from the trail,” she said. “You were always on your toes and seeing a new sight.  All in all, it was a gorgeous view, but then again most of New Zealand is beautiful.” 

The varsity lacrosse player is used to running, but another favorite experience from her trip was the opportunity to run around the South Pole. Coughlin can now say that she has run “around the world” because during her five-second journey around the pole she crossed every line of longitude.  

“It was -15 degrees Fahrenheit at the pole. The pole itself has all the flags of the nations involved in the Antarctic Treaty, and it’s just a really moving sight to witness,” she said. “Most people dream about getting to go to the South Pole, but I was actually there, and it is amazing.”

Aside from the beautiful scenery and the incredible adventure, the trip gave Coughlin additional insight into her desire to be an officer.

“I watched how the Air National Guard and the Air Force made themselves into a family down in Antarctica, and that was truly moving.”

While Antarctica is a desolate landscape, and even though prime research season for the area falls during the holidays, there was a sense of incredible community. The members of the team kept focused on their mission at hand, while also supporting each other, Coughlin said.

“As an officer, I hope to foster the same kind of environment with my sailors, to have everyone looking out for each other and a support system throughout any holiday or major event in their lives.” 

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