As Richard “Rocky” Wice checked a groundwater well at a U.S. Air Force strip in Texas, the last site he expected to see that day taxied by.
It was an F-16 fighter, one of the latest generations of that class of aircraft, and it bore the camouflage and blue Star of David of the Israeli Air Force.
Without missing a beat, Wice whipped the ball cap he was wearing from his head to reveal his kippa underneath. He recalls seeing the cockpit crew throw up their hands in disbelief.
“When the plane took off, it did a wing wag at me as it passed by,” Wice recalled. He later found out that the aircraft was the first of that generation of F-16s to go into service for the IAF.
That was two years ago. But Wice, a hydrogeologist for the Baton Rouge-based Shaw Group, wouldn’t have been on that airstrip at all were it not for his rather uncommon job of helping to keep Air Force and Navy installations green.
Wice works in the environmental division of the Shaw Group. They use chemical, thermal and other state-of-the-art measures to control contaminated groundwater and soil at hangers, productions sites (he saw the IAF F-16 at a Lockheed Martin production facility in Lubbock, Texas) and to rehabilitate groundwater supplies.
Wice, a Squirrel Hill resident who made clear he speaks neither for Shaw Group nor the military, said the Armed Forces are leaders in the cleanup of hazardous materials and the prevention of new contamination.
“The largest polluter in the United States historically is the federal government,” Wice said. “And the largest innovator to clean up hazardous sites is the government.”
Since 1992, Wice has worked on jobs at federal and military installations around the country, working on soil and groundwater contamination issues.
But Wice, who is a member of the Sustainable Remediation Forum — a nonprofit group with federal representation that promotes the use of sustainable practices during implementation of remedial action activities — has a much longer career in environmental work.
He previously worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a project manager at hazardous material sites (also known as Superfund sites) undergoing cleanup
He also is a member of the United Jewish Federation’s Environmental Committee and served as the UJF’s representative to the City of Pittsburgh’s Green Government Task Force, a coalition of local stakeholders responsible for developing the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A self-described middle of the roader when it comes to the environment, Wice said protecting the Earth is an important Jewish teaching.
“I believe in restoring the Earth,” he said. “I also believe is using resources wisely.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)