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576th FLTS hosts 51st Munitions Maintenance Squadron Reunion

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Drake Cales, 567th Flight Test Squadron
  • 567th Flight Test Squadron
In July of 1958, the Air Force and Strategic Air Command stood up a squadron of maintainers dedicated solely to the testing and development of the re-entry vehicles on board all of the Air Force's Intercontinental Ballistic Missile systems. The 51st Munitions Maintenance Squadron was established at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, to assemble, maintain, and mate re-entry vehicles to the Atlas, Thor, Titan and Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Nearly 60 years later, on the 68th birthday of the United States Air Force, 25 members of the original 51 MMS, accompanied by their family members, returned to Vandenberg AFB to reunite with old friends and connect with the Airmen of the 576th Flight Test Squadron who followed in their footsteps.

Members of the 576th FLTS, who assumed the ICBM test mission from legendary units like the 51 MMS, welcomed the returning pioneers of the ICBM community into their squadron with open arms. Members of the 51 MMS and present-day 576 FLTS spent the day together, learning from one another about the past and the future of their shared profession as they toured the areas once frequented by 51 MMS members. Today's 576th Munitions Storage Area was the same duty section of the 51 MMS from 1958 until 1972. While there have been some changes to the overall area, many of the original facilities used to assemble and test re-entry vehicles fifty years ago are still in use today.

The highlight of the day was time shared at lunch. Members of the 51 MMS, the present-day 576th, as well as the Task Force present from the 90th Missile Wing here for an upcoming launch shared stories of heritage and current-day operations with one another. Today's Airmen were thrilled to learn about their heritage from some of the people who were there at the very start. 51 MMS members shared their stories of past test launches, "Air Force-isms" that have long faded and those that will never change, and the political environment they lived through while putting strategic missiles on alert at Vandenberg during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The stories continued through the afternoon as the group toured the 576 FLTS Missile Processing Facility and Missile Alert Facility 01A.

While on the tour of MAF 01A, members of the 51 MMS were given insight into a side of the ICBM world they rarely saw as maintainers in the 1950s and 1960s. The "TOP HAND'ers" of the 576 FLTS were pleased to share their role in the test mission as they showed members of the 51 MMS around an underground Launch Control Center.

As the day came to a close, Pete Taylor, the president of the 51 MMS Associated, reflected on his experience.

"Everyone in the 576 FLTS was outstanding in the way they treated us and made us feel right at home." Taylor said. "I want to thank the men and women of the 576 FLTS for a wonderful time and look forward to seeing everyone again." 

While Taylor and his peers were happy with a day well spent, the members of the 576 FLTS were the true benefactors, grateful for the opportunity to learn from the men who paved the way for their mission today.