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Staff Sgt. Chad Lepley stands in front of one of RAF Mildenhall's 10-ton snowplows.
Staff Sgt. Chad Lepley stands in front of one of RAF Mildenhall's 10-ton snowplows. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Chad Lepley, 29, of Montoursville, Pa., is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the RAF Mildenhall equipment shop, which is responsible for snow and ice removal from runways and streets on base.

What’s the biggest winter problem here?

The big thing around here is ice. … We might get a few snowstorms here or there. I’m always looking at the base weather or watching the weather channel. It rains here a lot during the days and if it gets below freezing at night, we get ice.

How important is this to the base?

Very important because we’re in the Air Force; we support planes. If the runway’s not clear, we can’t launch planes.

How do you take care of ice?

What we do is use a sprayer that goes on the back of our pickup truck, and we go down the runway with it.

How about snow?

Brooms [mounted to trucks]; they probably are our bread and butter for snow removal. If it’s more than this thick [holds his hands about a foot apart] we use the plows. We have 10-ton dump trucks that have either 16-foot plows or 10-foot plows on them, or even 8-foot plows.

Your preference: Ice or snow?

Snow, because ice is a little bit more dangerous. When we have ice, I have to wait for the chemical to take its toll on the ice.

Are you dreaming of a ‘White Christmas?’

No, not really.

If Santa does deliver a lot of snow, what’ll the workday be like?

It’s more or less when the snow flies, it’s a 12-hour shift. We’re broken down into two 12-hour shifts. It does take a while to get done. People know that patience is a virtue when it comes to this.

Where else have your snow- and ice-removal talents come into play?

Offutt Air Force Base (Neb.). … The average [snow] there was about 60 inches, the same as in Pennsylvania. Here it’s a lot less. I was also in Hawaii before, but there was no snow there.

Do you get some sort of special ribbon for snow removal, or a ribbon with, say, a snowman-shaped device to attach to it?

No, nothing like that.

What do you do when it’s not winter —– sit and wait for the chance August snowstorm?

In the summertime, we do concrete and asphalt. Right now we’re prepping for the snow and ice, but next week we’re pouring some concrete. It’s something that has to be done.

Did you do snow and ice removal before joining the Air Force?

Before I came in I did a lot of snow removal for a landscaper. Here, it’s just on a lot larger scale. Our snowblower, you actually ride in it.

How about post-Air Force? Do you see yourself moving to Alaska and opening up a snowplow business?

When I’m done with the Air Force, I’m going to be done with snow removal. I think I’m going to move someplace warm.


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