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ICBM Operations : Always Adapting

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Robert Mack
  • 319th MIssile Squadron

As I sit here on alert at Echo-01, I reflect on just how much has changed in ICBM operations since I pulled my first alert in 2005. Not many would equate the ICBM operations career field with forward-thinking, adaptive change, but that is exactly what has happened throughout my career. For instance, we have moved from a rigid training structure to one centered on true proficiency and crew member empowerment.

Similarly, we changed how operations groups deploy to the field. This change was first driven by our response to COVID, but has morphed further into a concept focused on effective operations. I can only speak to what we have done here at F.E. Warren AFB, but similar changes and concepts have occurred across all three missile wings…and we are not done innovating.

When COVID first hit, I was on the first alert wave out the door, and we did not know how long we would be out there. We heard it could be up to a month or longer because there were so many unknowns. I bring this up because I want to make sure you all know just how dedicated your crew force is. We had more volunteers for that alert than we had seats to fill, and it was humbling to see people truly embody “service before self.”

Ultimately, that first COVID alert turned into a two-week alert with 4 crew members per site (A1 & A2 crews), and continued along until we learned more about COVID and our testing capabilities increased. At that point, we rotated into one-week alerts, still with A1 & A2 crews. All MAF personnel were on the same rotation, which is key because one of the benefits of this current construct is increased overlap with the Facility Manager, but also with Mission Support and Security Forces personnel.

So what does a crew member’s life look like now? We currently find ourselves in squadron deployments, where each squadron deploys to the entire missile field. So as I write this, the 319th Missile Squadron (and attached personnel from OSS and OGV) are manning each and every LCC across the 90th Missile Wing. We took to the field with our sister SF squadron, the 90th Missile Security Forces Squadron, seeing familiar faces and integrating with the same defenders each time.

Under normal circumstances (and normal weather), one crew is able to post a day later and return a day earlier due to sticking with a 24-hour rotation. That being said, having four crew members on site gives added flexibility for things like capsule maintenance, weather and family emergencies. During topside time, crews are able to work out, pursue school work or other interests, and take advantage of opportunities to train and integrate with our FM and SFG personnel. Concepts like backup alert crews are still a thing, and because we have vehicles in the field due to staggering the alert crews, we have flexibility on moving people as needed and getting people home quicker in emergencies (i.e., instead of having to generate a backup before I can bring someone home, I can have the person depart immediately since we have enough people on site to cover LCC alert actions).

My folks then have two weeks at home, at which time they can take leave or passes but also must accomplish any readiness or professional requirements. This includes two simulator rides per month, academic training, professional development and any medical/personal appointments. The schedule is very rigid but also highly predictable, meaning my Airmen can look months ahead and know the days off they have. Their sacrifice is quite real as they are away from home one week out of every three and have little flexibility in when they can take leave. Additionally, our second tour personnel filling roles  like instructor, evaluator, and flight commander are carrying a higher alert load than we would prefer due to our personnel numbers. We project these difficulties will be lessened as manning increases over time.

One of the things I would like to leave readers with is just how professional and accomplished this crew force is. They are operating an aging, yet capable weapon system with such poise and professionalism that it takes my breath away. They come in each day with a smile on their face and get to work, despite the large amount of time away from friends and family. They have adapted to multiple crew deployment constructs in the last couple of years, and are always thinking about ways to innovate further. Every day they thrive under General Brown’s “accelerate change or lose” mentality, never settling for the status quo, pushing themselves to be better. And speaking for myself, they also push me to be better every day because they absolutely deserve the best we can give them.

Command is a privilege, not a right. And I struggle to put into words how much of a privilege it is to command these missileers – you can rest easy knowing they are watching over you and yours.

This article first appeared in the quarterly newsletter of the Association of Air Force Missileers, Volume 29, Number 4 on page 3.