Nebraska National Guard air base personnel brave holiday snow, cold

Story by: Spc. Lisa Crawford
Posted: 1/16/2018
Bryan Philippi, a military security specialist with the Nebraska National Guard air base in Lincoln, braves temperatures with negative wind chills, Jan. 16, 2018, while checking visitor identification and conducting vehicle inspections. (Nebraska National Guard photo by Spc. Lisa Crawford)

As the calendar turned from 2017 to 2018, most full-time Soldiers, Airmen and Nebraska Military Department civilian employees were off work enjoying the holidays in the warmth and comfort of their homes. But with temperatures in the state falling below even those in Antarctica, warmth wasn’t the case for everyone.

“It hurts,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Raymond Sturgeon, a security specialist with the 155th Security Forces Squadron. “It hurts when you breathe. It shouldn’t hurt when you breathe.”
Several full-time Soldiers, Airmen and civilian employees alike were left working around the clock to keep the Nebraska National Guard air base in Lincoln running over the holidays as cold temperatures plummeted to near record lows.
Sturgeon, considered one of just a few essential personnel, said the cold began to take a toll after he worked in the brutal temperatures for three days straight conducting vehicle inspections, checking IDs and securing buildings without much help over the New Year holiday.
“My sinuses were so inflamed from breathing the cold air that I was getting a migraine,” he said. 

“It was just painfully cold.” Army Sgt. Dylan Hergenrader, a full-time UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter mechanic, agreed, finding the cold temperatures to be miserable, especially for his first winter home following a year-long deployment last summer to Afghanistan.
“I prefer the cold to the heat, but at least when it’s hot out I can feel my fingers when I’m turning a wrench,” Hergenrader said.
Fortunately, most of Hergenrader’s job can be completed inside the heated hangar of the Nebraska National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility No. 1 on the air base in Lincoln.
“We can’t leave the aircraft outside very long in the cold like this because the (equipment) will contract and start leaking,” Hergenrader said.

“We usually do maintenance outside when it’s warmer, so now every time we even need to do something little we have to bring the birds in from the cold to work on them.” Army Spc. Tate Hanzlicek, a full-time petroleum supply specialist at AASF No. 1, isn’t as lucky.
“Refueling has to be done outside, and it takes at least 15 minutes to do that,” Hanzlicek said.
With temperatures near negative 20 degrees before the wind chills, Hanzlicek said he’s been spending even more time exposed readying fuel trucks and ensuring they start properly.
“The other day I had a problem with them starting because it was so cold, which always just makes the thing worse,” he said.
The AASF No. 1 crew is responsible for all rotary assets at the air base in Lincoln, including snow and ice removal from the flight line attached to the Army hangar. When the cold temperatures of winter hit, the crews take immediate action to tailor both preventative and reactive maintenance plans to the weather’s effects on equipment. And even as the weather warms, they will continue to monitor for possible issues.
“Any extreme one way or another is not good for them,” Hergenrader said.
“I compare it to being just like your body,” Hanzlicek said. “If you’re outside for long periods of time, you’re more prone to getting sick.”
While the Soldiers manage the Army hangar, the majority of the air base is maintained by the 155th Civil Engineer Squadron. The 155th CES is responsible for providing winter salt and shovels to individual buildings, and snow removal from sidewalks, main roads and the 155th Air Refueling Wing’s entire flight line, which supports multiple KC-135R Stratotanker refueling planes.
“It’s a collective effort,” said Janelle Priest, the base facilities maintenance manager. “I’m very fortunate for the people we have in the CES. They go out of their way to help out every craft. Even if they aren’t in roads and grounds, they will assist us with snow removal. Everybody helps everybody out.”
Priest said the first snow of the season, which came right before the Christmas holiday, was a great example of how the team comes together when there is a need.
“There’s just a lot sense of pride and ownership in what we do for the entire base,” Priest said about the team of Airmen and civilian employees who came in right before the holiday to clear the snow. “You might sacrifice a little now, but that’s okay when you take pride in your job.”
Keeping warm is the main concern Priest has for her staff, and everyone else working outdoors on the base in the extreme cold. She said she briefs her staff regularly on wearing proper cold-weather attire and personal protective equipment at all times, as well as limiting exposure by ensuring snow crews take needed breaks and rotate shifts.
“This type of cold isn’t very enjoyable,” Priest said. “So, unless you absolutely have to be outside, don’t.”
Sturgeon said the security personnel manning the front gate try to keep a good exposure cycle, but that isn’t always possible.
“The main thing that can help us is for people visiting the base to make sure they are ready with their ID when they pull up to the gate,” Sturgeon said. “Not being ready just means more time we’re all exposed to the elements, so having the appropriate paperwork ready to go helps lessen everybody’s exposure.”
Sturgeon also encourages everyone coming onto base to be dressed in weather-appropriate attire at all times, as the security forces mission never stops.
“We’re here 24/7, 365 days a year, and we still have all out anti-terrorism efforts to meet,” Sturgeon said. “Dress for the weather, not your destination, so you don’t find yourself randomly selected for a vehicle inspection while you’re wearing shorts and flip flops in subzero temperatures.”
“Still,” Sturgeon added, “fingers crossed this is the coldest weather we’ll see this winter.”