Personality Profile: Iceman redefines disability

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nora Anton
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Mike Nafploitius is one of many Eielson Department of Defense civilians who work diligently every day to support the Iceman Team.

His story is like many others' who live in the Fairbanks area and work at the base; he has successfully raised five children, step-fathered another three, lives with his wife, Mary, who works for the school district in Fairbanks and enjoys the company of his house pets, a Manx, a munchkin cat and a Boston Terrier.

He greets Airmen who come to Icemen Outfitters, his place of work, with a friendly face and warm smile, and often says, "You've been here before, haven't you?" upon hearing the voice of a past customer.

Mr. Nafploitius shares many similarities with other hard-working and dedicated civilians supporting the Air Force mission, with one substantial exception: he has been blind since birth with little light perception.

He works at Iceman Outfitters here as a warehouseman, and has happily assisted almost every incoming Airman with their winter clothing issue since 2001.

He said he never really considers his impairment as getting in the way of his job.

"I don't really think a lot about it--I just do it," he said. "I have a 'disability,' but I guess it depends on how you look at it. Disabled to me means somebody who is not able to do a whole lot."

He said in another sense, his lack of vision is more of a nuisance at times than a handicap.

His most common obstacle is staying patient.

"If I get impatient I start to rush around, and then I will just end up running into something," he said. "I've actually been told to stop running in the office."

Mr. Nafploitius stocks the clothing room, puts freight away and helps customers with clothing issue.

When asked for help to find a certain item, he's apt to walk directly to it, with no hesitation.

His favorite part of his job is talking to customers and putting the shipments away.

"I like to mingle with different people," he said. "I'm a people person for sure."

The Department of Defense employs thousands of workers with disabilities, recognizing their strengths and accommodating according to personal needs.

Mr. Nafploitius' employers have made life on the job a little easier for him by labeling some shelves with Braille, and making special accommodations in case of emergencies.

"For safety purposes, we can't have weighted things over certain heights, so he wears a harness when on a ladder and we have fire drills frequently so he will know how to escape in an emergency," said Terry Kerstetter, Iceman Outfitters manager.

Mr. Nafploitius is a native of Greece, born on the island of Naxos, the home of the Temple of Apollo, and raised there until he was almost 7 years old.

He attended the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind and the Maryland School for the Blind. There, he picked up an ear for the piano, which led to his first job as a piano tuner. He has also been a radio disk jockey, a switchboard receptionist and a computer technician.

Although he grew up on the east coast, Mr. Nafploitius admits that he always wanted to move to Alaska, even as a young child.

"In second grade we studied Alaska," he said. "I love Alaska, it is in my blood to live here."

Arriving in Alaska in 1986, Mr. Nafploitius garnered jobs through agencies such as the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Access Alaska, who assist disabled individuals seeking work, which is how he came to work on Eielson.

"Other than the fact that it's on a military base and everybody calls you sir, it's really not different from any other job I've had," he said. "The people here [in Alaska] are very laid back, which is part of the reason I like it so much."

"Mike, unlike most employees now-a-days, respects the fact that he has a job," said Mr. Kerstetter. "We don't treat him any different than anyone else we would hire; if he could do more, he would. We're constantly telling him that there's certain jobs around here he can't do, due to his circumstances, but he is always willing to try."