FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Less than a week after Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter, a polar vortex sent frigid air to Fort Leonard Wood — and with freezing temperatures comes the possibility for inclement weather and dangerous driving conditions.
To help keep the community safe through the winter months, a small team of Soldiers here standby to augment the installation’s Snow and Ice Removal program, commonly referred to as SNAIR.
The 10 Soldiers on the team are assigned as cadre support for the Quarry Support Platoon of Company A, 554th Engineer Battalion. When activated for SNAIR, they are charged with clearing about 30 miles of primary and secondary roads, mainly in the training areas of the southern part of the installation, said Capt. Bruce Leuthold, Alpha Company’s commander.
To accomplish this mission, the Soldiers use road graders outfitted with rubber blades to clear the snow without damaging the asphalt.
“We hit the training areas because we have the big equipment that goes down the gravel roads,” said Sgt. Kevin Davis, a motor transport operator who’s currently working his second winter here on the SNAIR team.
Davis, who grew up in Greenville, Miss., didn’t have much experience with snow before coming to Fort Leonard Wood.
“It gets cold back home, but snow is a very uncommon thing,” he said. “We do a lot of on-the-job training here though — it’s a good program.”
The SNAIR team Soldiers also support training for quarry specialists, who learn how to work with crushed rock. Davis said this helps with their mission.
“We stockpile the material for projects around the post,” he said. “When we go out and clear some of the roads, we might throw some sand out there as well.”
In contrast to Davis, Spc. Daniel Laporte is a horizontal construction engineer whose hometown is Shushan, N.Y., in the lower Adirondack Mountains.
“I’ve seen a lot of snow in my life,” he said. “I’m very used to it.”
Laporte is completing his fourth and final winter as part of the Fort Leonard Wood SNAIR team — he’ll be heading back to New York later this year as a member of the National Guard.
He said there are two important things to remember when driving in the snow.
“Drive slowly,” he said. “And if you see plows on the road, give them room.”
While most of the installation’s snow and ice removal is performed by contractors, having Soldiers available to assist has at least one major benefit, Leuthold said.
“Most of the Soldiers live on post,” he said. “So, sometimes we’re able to get started before the contractors can get here. It’s all about keeping the installation safe — keeping the roads open, not only for training, but for everyone. We really appreciate having the opportunity to give back in that way.”
In addition to plowing snow, Leuthold said the team can also be called upon to operate chainsaws.
“If a tree comes down from snow and ice, we have to be able to remove the debris in the road,” he said. “Engineers have to be ready to take on any type of mission — solve any problem. We’re heavy equipment operators, but all equipment helps get the job done.”
Leuthold said the SNAIR season here typically lasts from October to March. The rest of the time, the team is on call for fire suppression — they have bulldozers to assist in building fire breaks, if necessary.
“We also get to do a lot of construction projects on post,” he added. “It’s a cool unit to be a part of — we get to use what we train on.”
In about one week, Leuthold departs for an assignment with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Kansas City, and Capt. Elizabeth Thomas will step into her first command role. She said she looks forward to leading a company “that does so much.”
“I didn’t realize how much Alpha Company does,” she said. “I didn’t know about the SNAIR mission. Talking with the quarry guys, they love operating the equipment. That’s what they live for. And they’re not just pushing dirt around here — they have a mission that helps the installation.”