SOUTHWEST ASIA – Air Force Staff Sgt. Sophia Mantzouris of the 386th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron said she knew she wanted to enlist on active duty from the time she was a little girl, but a friend steered her toward the Air National Guard.
Her Air Guard service has provided her an opportunity to serve at extremes.
"The first guard unit I joined was the 109th [Airlift Wing] in Scotia, N.Y.," Mantzouris said. "I served there for nine years and I became an engine troop because, at the time, they had the most educational benefits, the highest bonus, and I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity the Guard had to offer."
Being a single-parent airman presents its own set of challenges for Mantzouris.
"Being a single mom is difficult, because it's two ways that I've completely dedicated my life," she said. "I'm a perfect example of the importance of a family care plan."
The family care plan is designed to provide a smooth, rapid transfer of responsibilities to designees during short- and long-term absences for military duty.
"My plan allows me to be there for my Guard unit as best I can and still make sure that my daughter is properly cared for as she needs to be," she said.
While serving with the 109th Airlift Wing, Mantzouris put her plan into effect to support Operation Deep Freeze missions in Antarctica -- a stark contrast to the desert heat of her current deployment here.
"In some ways [Antarctica is] like here, but it's frozen," she said. "You deal with the extreme cold instead of the extreme heat. When the wind starts whipping down there, it's like the sandstorms here where you can't even see in front of your face."
Due to the harsh Antarctic environment, Operation Deep Freeze missions are flown during the Southern Hemisphere summer. But in Antarctica, those summers don’t lend themselves to frozen treats or cooling off.
"The day I went to South Pole Station it was minus 15 degrees, and the scientists that were there said, 'It's like a heat wave right now,' and I said, 'You’ve got to be crazy,'" she said. "It's not like here, where you can get parts from Bagram [Airfield, Afghanistan] on the next plane. You're all by yourself down there."
Mantzouris has once again put her long-term family care plan into action supporting the Delaware Air National Guard's 166th Airlift Wing C-130 Hercules rotation at the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, where summer temperatures routinely top 100 degrees. So far, she’d rather be here than in Antarctica.
"I hate the cold, which is why my family thought it was comical that I joined the only unit in the entire world that belongs to the Antarctic mission," she said. "So far, the heat hasn't bothered me, but talk to me again before I leave in July, and we will see."