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Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurements

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  David Anderson

Dave (as he prefers to be called) works for Raytheon and has the job title, "Deep Field Mechanic." As such he works in remote field camps such as WAIS and helps keep a variety of equipment running. Some of the equiment he works on are the Tucker Sno-Cat, a 953 Cat, several Pisten Bullys, Snowmobiles, generators, Zaugg snow blowers, trail groomers, and tillers as well as a variety of equipment used by the scientists. This job has been his profession for about 6 years.

Born in California and raised in Idaho, he makes his home in Meridian, Idaho when he is not on the ice. Since he was a very little boy, he has liked to work with his hands. He says his dad had to hide tools such as pliers, screwdrivers, etc., because if Dave found a tool, he took something apart. He admits he rarely put anything back together after taking it apart.

He has been a mechanic since he was 16 years old, so that gives him about 30 years of experience in the field. He previously worked for Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency working on buses and light rail trains. But he was on the lookout for something more challenging. He learned about his current job through an ice-climbing buddy who saw a Raytheon ad. Dave checked it out and decided that being a mechanic in Antarctica appealed to him.

When asked about his school experience, he admits that he was not a model student. He found most classes quite boring, except for one teacher who he said was so funny that he made learning fun. Shop classes were, not too unexpectedly, much more to his taste than the academic curriculum. He also began hanging around with what he calls "a hippy, drug-using crowd." When his senior year rolled around, he was short of credits for graduation, so went for a GED. He began to realize that the drug scene was not a positive lifestyle, as he became interested in ice climbing. He found that this was a wonderful outlet for him and it helped him to meet lots of interesting people and go "really cool places."

He admits that he uses a lot of math and science in his work. Much of the math needed, he said, is quite basic - simple arithmetic and basic algebra. He says "Ohms Law is basically my life." He mentioned that he uses Kirkoff's Voltage Law a lot too. "It's not that I think about the definitions of these laws," he says. "It's just that sometimes I realize that what I just did was based on, or was an application of that law." When asked if he learned the science he uses in his middle or high school years, he laughs and says that he learned most of it in mechanics school. According to Dave, mechanics have to continue going to school regularly to learn the newest systems and that these classes give a pretty good grounding in various aspects of science and math. Since the instruction is really relevant to things he enjoys doing, he does not mind going to school. In fact, he says he rather enjoys school now that he is older. As an example he says that his least favorite high school class was history. He absolutely hated it. But now, the History Channel is his favorite channel. He doesn't know why or when he began to love history, but now he does.

His advice to students like himself is to "stay in school and learn all you can. Don't be afraid to experiment, but maintain moderation in all things."

Dave is a very organized person. When you enter his tent, all his tools are beautifully organized. I told him that when we came to WAIS, someone told us that "Dave has lots of tools and you can ask to borrow one and he will probably let you do so, but never, never take one of his tools without permission, because he WILL miss it and come looking for you." He laughed and said that he was really organized, maybe even a little anal. He says that seems to come with the territory of being an electro-mechanic, but that heavy mechanics tend to be a lot less organized. Maybe there is something about these different jobs that appeals to different types of people. He thinks it is really important that students understand the importance of organization in their jobs and their lives. He says if you aren't organized you spend most of your time looking for things, not having what you need or trying to fix broken things. In his opinion and based on experience, he says, this leads to slip-shod work. Because he knows exactly where his tools are, it gives him the time to do a job right rather than rushing it.

H really likes his job as a deep-field mechanic because he gets to work on such a variety of equipment, there is always something new to do and because the job requires so much creativity. He notes that he has to figure out ways to do things in the cold, when there are limited resources and still get them done right. "After all," he says, "there aren't cranes and stuff like that in remote field camps ."He relates the story that he had to assemble a huge 953 Cat that was flown to him in six or seven parts. He had a gantry crane at WAIS, but it was too short for the cab. So basically he dug a snow pit and assembled the machine in the pit. He then built a snow ramp so he could add the additional needed parts. Then he dug out the pit so he could drive out. You have to admit this was pretty creative thinking.

Overall, he is a great guy who is well respected by the other camp staff and the scientists who depend on his work to do their science. Our team had him check the Pisten Bully (sort of an all-terrain tracked vehicle) and give the team members who were going to be using it instruction in how to drive it and how to notice and troubleshoot little problems before they got to be big problems. He also examined our generator when it seemed to be producing fluctuating power. A deep-field mechanic is an important support for polar science.

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