Seeing The Nuclear Deterrence Bigger Picture
by U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Heather N. Heiney
June 11, 2021
The alarm was blaring on the launch control console, messages were flashing across the screens and I was trying and failing to follow the checklist for a training simulation intercontinental ballistic missile launch correctly and as quickly as possible.
My heart raced and I was both immediately overwhelmed and amazed at what misileers actually do.
Spoiler alert, it’s not sitting and waiting to push a big red button. In fact, there is no big red button.
U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Joseph Bruno, 10th MS missileer, left, and Capt. Ryan Huston, 10th Missile Squadron mission lead combat crew commander, right, perform a training simulation intercontinental ballistic missile launch, inside the missile procedures training simulator May 27, 2021 at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. The 341st Operations Group will be offering a familiarization briefing and MPT simulator tour every other Thursday to help familiarize wing members with the 341st OG mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Beau Wade)
When I signed up for the 341st Operations Group familiarization brief, I knew I would learn more about the OG and that it would be cool to see inside the missile procedures training simulator, but I didn’t expect that by the end I would feel much more connected to Wing One and its mission to defend America with combat-ready Airmen and ICBM forces.
When I first started this job a month and a half ago, I was coming from a background mostly made up of C-130s. I understand tactical airlift, aerial firefighting and hurricane hunting – you can see the mission happening and it’s pretty exciting. Honestly (don’t tell my boss), I hesitated to take this job because my perception was that Malmstrom’s mission sits underground and does nothing. I worried I’d get bored, but I was so wrong.
A good portion of the mission does happen underground, but the Airmen making the mission happen certainly don’t do nothing. Missileers take turns on alert status spending 24-hours at a time 60 feet underground in a metal launch control capsule that hangs from the ceiling. They monitor alarms, ensure the ICBMs are properly targeted and are always ready at all times to employ the most powerful weapon system in human existence.
Capt. Ryan Huston, 10th Missile Squadron mission lead combat crew commander said that misileers have been doing the mission every day since 1962 and that they’re always ready, always operational and always good to go.
And that’s just the very center of the 341st Missile Wing’s mission – there are so many other pieces that connect to it like threads to the center of a spider web.
Huston led the briefing and tour and explained that together, the different pieces of the wing connect to ensure peace and prevention through deterrence. Whether it’s operations, security forces, maintenance, mission support, medical, the wing staff agencies or the helicopter squadron, everyone works together to accomplish the mission and each person in the wing makes a drastic difference to national security.
It can be so easy to get wrapped up in your own career field and focus so much on only doing your job that you don’t stop to find out why what you do matters. 1st Lt. Joseph Bruno, 10th MS missileer, said that he hopes the tours give everyone they work with a look at the bigger picture and makes them feel more a part of the mission.
After explaining how each different squadron on base plays a role in the ICBM mission, Huston explained the process of initiating a launch, the layout of a missile alert facility, some of the history of the wing and how the Minuteman III ICBM actually functions.
Another thing that I didn’t understand before this briefing is why so much of the nuclear deterrence mission isn’t classified like I thought it should be and, specifically, why you can see the launch facilities out in the open or even find their locations online. Huston explained that it’s so any of our adversaries will know we’re always ready.
After the briefing, we toured the three missile squadrons and got an in-depth look at the MPT simulator. The simulator looks like what I’d always imagined a military control room to look like. It’s behind a thick vault door, with two chairs that lock in place, the launch control console and replicas of all the equipment, computers, communications devices and machinery that make their job possible. Huston explained the separate roles of the left and right side of the console and let us experience what it’s like to respond to an alarm at a launch facility and run through a launch simulation.
If you are part of the wing and want to learn how your job fits into the nuclear deterrence mission or even just see inside of the MPT simulator and experience a little bit of what it’s like to be a missileer, go to this briefing.
Familiarization briefings will take place every other Thursday at 9 a.m. in the 341st OG conference room, which is located in building 500, room 254A and will be open to any active duty or Air Force civil service Airmen. Participants can sign up for the briefing ahead of time by contacting Huston at firstname.lastname@example.org or they are welcome to just show up to any scheduled briefing.
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