How to get your awesomeness certified by the U.S. Military in one easy step


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.

Then you just sit back and bask in the Courage, Sacrifice, and Devotion you may not have even known you had.

8 thoughts on “How to get your awesomeness certified by the U.S. Military in one easy step

  1. This is way beyond cool, Gail! And since you can’t wear your service medal/ribbon, you need to display it in one of those little glass boxes. No putting it in a drawer. Congratulations, even if you didn’t know you were going to be bemedaled. (And I didn’t need to see the medal to know that you are awesome.)


    • Aw, thanks Ellen.

      It’s currently on a shelf, does that count? I don’t own too many drawers so I think it’s safe on the shelf for the time being.


  2. Congratulations, Gail! That is really neat. I love the medal and I actually have a glass display case should you want it. I currently display my medal for being the first mother to finish a road race when Kristin was in college. Then they told me I was the ONLY mother who ran(that alone deserves a medal!) Anyway, I agree with Ellen–no putting it in a drawer.


    • Sounds like I’ll be needing that glass display case to make Ellen happy. Good for you for being not only the first but the only mother in that race! Seems like a lot more moms are into running these days. I wonder if they still give out the same kind of medals.


  3. I don’t know what you did, but stepping off that C-130 or C-141 on to frozen Weddell ice sheet constitutes a lot of bravery in the first place. When I did it in the “summer” of 1997-98, I heard stories of people who had signed the contract and then said “Fuck this” the second it came time to step on the ice. Those of us (like you, I assume) who flew that long flight from Denver to L.A. to Auckland to Christchurch and finally to McMurdo know exactly what kind of sacrifice that took, and the subsequent 6 months to a year on the ice in isolation from civilization. My partner and I spent every day outside freezing our asses off (we’re both expat Northeasterners – him Philly and me Burlington, VT) so we were no strangers to subzero temperatures, but we kicked ass and ran more pipe to the NZ base than any crew before us. I’m proud to have served the United States in a support role on the ice and would do it again for no pay. God bless you and have a wonderful day. BTW, in 1960 Congress authorized you and I as civilians to receive that medal for our services to our country. It’s no secret, look it up.


  4. Well I was there on an Ice Breaker the Coast Guards WAGB4 ” USCGC Glacier” in 74-75 you make fun of it, ” the medal” we worked for it.


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