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Walking in the shadow of nuclear giants

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Landon Gunsauls
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs

At the dawn of the 20th century, no one knew yet that the Air Force would even exist. Even further out of the realm of belief would be the mission of nuclear deterrence. Yet, staying on constant alert, executing that mission, remains arguably the greatest feat the Air Force has accomplished to date. But where did we as Strikers start our journey?

In a cabin in Los Alamos, New Mexico, J. Robert Oppenheimer lived while developing America’s first atomic bomb. A coworker and I were recently given the opportunity to visit that cabin and several other historic sites related to the Manhattan Project during a trip to New Mexico.

Setting off on a crisp, cold Friday morning, we arrived in Los Alamos around noon and set about exploring the Los Alamos Ranch School where many of the scientists and military personnel working for the Manhattan Project lived, ate and socialized. With a rich history and beautiful grounds, the Ranch School has been around and operated as a boy’s school, military installation, and now hotel for over 100 years.

While in Los Alamos, we took the chance to swing by the Bradbury Science Museum and check out the incredible exhibits they had to offer; with the price of admission being free, I couldn’t recommend a visit more than I do now.

After puttering around for 4 hours in Los Alamos, we made the two-hour drive to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, grabbed some dinner and settled into our hotel room for the night. The next morning, we hit the road south towards White Sands Missile Range, an Army installation normally utilized for weapons testing, but also the location of the first atomic test, codenamed: Trinity.

Sitting just a few miles into one of the gates, the Trinity Site is opened only twice a year to the public to explore and walk around freely. The site itself is now little more than a fenced in area, the bottom posts of the original detonation tower and a stone obelisk marking the detonation site; yet, you can’t stand there and not feel that you are in one of the most significant locations of the modern age. It feels almost as if you stand in the shadow of one of the greatest achievements man has accomplished and as an Airman under Global Strike Command, it is simultaneously the strangest and coolest feeling to stand where the seeds of your command were first planted. We drove back to Kirtland that day feeling as though we’d stood on the shoulders of giants.

Outside of Kirtland’s gates, the Museum of Nuclear Science and History is open from 9-5 every day and is by far one of the most interesting museums I’ve visited. The museum has considerable assets on display, including artifacts from before World War II up to the present, such as items from the Manhattan project and an MX Peacekeeper missile.

Taking the time to look back at where we as Strikers get our roots from was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. If you’re ever given the chance to see the Trinity Site during one of their open houses in April and October, do not pass it up. Plus, if you’ve got a chance during a long weekend, Kirtland is just inside the 8-hour travel radius, and the food in New Mexico alone is worth the drive.