Earlier today we were informed of the loss of one of our greatest friends from the McMurdo community, Bija Sass. In her honor I’m reposting a blog from February of 2018. As Juliane Gross describes below, Bija is a Badass, a warrior woman with a heart of gold and was an absolute champion of ANSMET for nearly 20 years. We literally would have been unable to do our job without her during that timeframe, and we will miss her.
When you enter the BFC (short for Berg Field Center) your eyes need a few seconds to adjust to the windowless, dimly lit container building. But if you are an outdoor lover like me, once your eyes have adjusted to the light, your heart will start racing and your eyes will light up like a kid in a candy store because the BFC contains all the outdoor gear and deep field equipment that you can ever imagine. Long rows of folded Scott-tents line the walls like waiting soldiers, sledges, sleeping-bags, and pads are stacked and lined up in one area, pee-bottle washing stations are waiting patiently to be used, and thermoses, tent stakes, binoculars, and survival kits are neatly sorted in shelves, dreaming of being used by one of the many scientists that the BFC supports. The walls of the upper level are lined with artefacts, old photographs from early explorers, and pictures of recent, fun times here in Antarctica. The vibe in the BFC is friendly, supportive, and a lot of fun. And responsible for all of this is badass woman Bija Sass! Bija is the Field Support Supervisor and ANSMET’s implementer. Without her, our deep field search for meteorites would not be possible.
As a true badass woman, Bija has done many awesome things in her live. She was born in Boston MA, grew up in the NY – NJ area. She has hiked the Appalachian Trail where she first met people who had worked down here in Antarctica, she served in the Peace Corps, worked for “Doctors Without Borders”, and now she is supporting science programs like ANSMET in her 14th season here in Antarctica. And like all awesome hero stories, Bija’s story began humbly, as a dishwasher here in the galley in Antarctica. She made her way up to the BFC a year later where she spent the next 14(!) months working (editor’s note: Bija’s first season was 2002). 14 seasons in McMurdo is not to be taken lightly! But she mastered her time skillfully, and within the next years she went through different positions such as Field Camp Supervisor, and today works full time as the Field Support Supervisor and is boss of the BFC. She says the best part of her job (and I totally agree with her) are all the different people and personalities she gets to work with whom she would -under normal circumstances- not get to meet and closely interact with, from plumbers and steel-workers to carpenters, pilots, cooks, and scientists. The community here in McMurdo is very tightly knit with everyone being equal to one another. Creativity, generosity, and helpfulness are just a few things that are held very high here, making this one of the best places to work in the world.
Bija has been a true supporter for ANSMET, her job covering our needs from start to finish and including all our field plans, our risk management (tag-teamed with SAR -Search And Rescue), and running the BFC so that all our basic needs and logistics in the deep field are covered from having well-functioning and safe equipment, real butter (not that crappy 50% less fat butter) which totally saved my butt, to delivering mail in the field, to getting our needed re-supply mission to exchange broken parts and getting much needed fuel. But Bija’s job in supporting ANSMET really starts 10 month before we actually get here, basically when the old season ends Bija starts to prepare for the new season. Ordering supplies, repairing old equipment, handling the logistics, flights, and supply missions, and much more, everything starts a long time before we actually get into the field.
And once we leave the continent, Bija will still be here. Her season will end a bit later than ours, she will be on the last flight out this year at the end of February and then she wants to go rock climbing, eating good food with lots of freshies, and spending time with her nieces and nephew. And we wish her all the best, lots of good hand- and foot holds for her climb, and a wonderful time with her family. Thank you, Bija, for your awesome support!
Juliane, McMurdo Station Antarctica, Feb. 1st (2018) at 11:45am
Editor’s note: In over 20 years, I never saw Bija without that smile. Not once.