I received this gem in the mail the other day. At first I was surprised to see a big envelope from the U.S. Antarctic Program, since I’m not planning to deploy this year. When I opened it, all I could do was laugh. It turns out I had been awarded the Antarctic Service Medal. For serving my country and all.
I had no idea this was coming. I glanced at the certificate when I opened it, but I was on my way out the door and laughed it off as a cute acknowledgment for the hard work I’d put in. Kind of like those elementary school attendance awards.
At work later that week, someone who had been in Antarctica with me asked if I’d gotten my medal. He had, too, and when he told his dad about it, he discovered that it’s actually a pretty high-ranking decoration, especially considering we’re not in the military.
As the Antarctic Service Medal wikipedia page makes clear, I can’t even wear my medal or ribbon. But that’s okay because they sent me a small pin as a consolation prize. I think they’ll let me wear this one.
So without further ado, how can you get your very own military medal that you can’t even wear?
1. Go to Antarctica.
That’s about it.
At first glance this may not seem all that easy, but I assure you it’s easier than it sounds.
One thing to note is that you can be a tourist in Antarctica. That usually means paying about $20,000 per person for a week on a boat trip around the Antarctic Peninsula. That might be right up your alley, but it won’t get you a medal.
But there are several other fun options that will:
a) Become a scientist. Geology, Ethology, Glaciology, Ecology, Oceanography. Pick your favorite -ology and get yourself some advanced schoolin’. Other good choices that can get you to Antarctica are Astronomy, Chemistry, and Physics. The key here is to get into research in a field of natural or physical science and apply for funding from the National Science Foundation. The NSF basically runs the United States Antarctic Program. You’ll probably want a job in academia to make this happen.
b) Become a contractor. The U.S. Antarctic Program requires a lot of support staff. From dishwashers to mechanics, secretaries to “fuelies”, firefighters to pilots. All of these positions are subcontracted through Lockheed Martin and as far as I know, all of them will get you more than your fair share of “service in Antarctica”.
c) Become an NSF-funded journalist. The NSF occasionally funds photographers, film-makers, and other journalists. If you can land a gig like this on your own or attach yourself to a science group that’s looking for someone like this, go for it. You just need to be deployed to Antarctica for 10+ days and you’re good to go.