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Malmstrom's Airmen, America's defenders

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Collin Schmidt
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Malmstrom Air Force Base is home to 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. These missiles have the capability of striking a target more than 6,000 miles away; traveling at nearly 15,000 mph, faster than a bullet. Each missile is an indispensable component to America's nuclear deterrent force and has the power to sway the minds of those who would want to do the United States harm.

The men and women chosen by the Air Force to protect, maintain and operate these missiles work 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year, and are held to a standard of perfection in everything they do. They must be ready at all times to receive a presidential order, which if given, will change our lives forever. They must maintain this level of excellence with the hope they will never have to turn the launch key, which will send a missile to its designated target.

Airmen perform daily maintenance on these missile systems in coordination with the missileers who operate the launch systems and the security forces personnel who are tasked to protect these systems 24/7. One section cannot operate without the other as every Airman works hand-in-hand with their counterparts to complete their daily tasks, which keeps these systems constantly ready in order to carry out the mission at a moment's notice.

"A normal day starts anywhere from 0500 to 0700 for the majority of the men and women on my team," said Lt. Col. Thomas Vance, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron commander. "Preparation to head into the missile field usually takes one to two hours. Every day we focus on mission success because once we hit the road, there's no turning back. Once on site, every aspect of the missile - from environmental control to power systems to any and all unforeseen issues - are covered. We also keep the launch facility and launch control center fully functional to execute the mission at all times.

"We can run into some harsh conditions out in the field and the job can be tough sometimes, but the men and women I work with strive every day to perform at their best and take pride in their work," Vance said. "I am privileged to work with some of the greatest maintainers in the Air Force."

Missileers are tasked to operate the launch control centers and launch facilities surrounding Malmstrom with the main objective being to carry out a launch if the order is ever given. They operate in 24-hour shifts, commonly referred to as "an alert" in the missile community.

"My day-to-day operations as a missile combat crew member, otherwise known as a 'missileer,' consists of continuously training to keep up-to-date with the tasks my career requires," said 2nd Lt. Jasmine Paul, 490th Missile Squadron deputy combat crew commander. "I pull eight alerts a month and monitor 50 missiles. We monitor the missiles for maintenance needs and various other tasks that need to be done on a daily basis to keep the systems operating at 100 percent."

"It is my job to always be combat-mission ready," Paul said. "My proficiency and the consistency in my job are very important to the mission. It is our responsibility to always be ready in case we ever do receive an order to launch, an order that comes directly from the President of the United States."

The protection of Malmstrom's missile systems is delegated to the security forces personnel. It is their job to protect the missiles that provide a nuclear deterrence for every resident of the United States. In their words, the mission assigned to them can be painful and grueling at times, but despite the hardships that come with the territory, they believe it is one of the most important missions in the Air Force, and to the American people.

"Enough cannot be said of the personnel at Malmstrom," said Capt. Francesco Folino, 341st MMXS generation flight commander. "It's a huge team effort. These guys are always in the missile field roughing the elements and putting up with the cold and the wind. We definitely could not perform our mission without the efforts some of these unsung heroes give to the team on a daily basis."

On Dec. 17 at 4:36 a.m., a team of 15 Airmen from Malmstrom were able to see the fruit of their labor when a successful test launch of a Minuteman III ICBM was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. It arrived at its target some 4,200 miles away near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

"Every test launch verifies the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent," said Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, 20th Air Force commander.

"Our Airmen maintain and operate this weapon system year-round in some challenging environments, and today's test is a result of their tireless devotion to this mission," Weinstein said.

The test launch, commonly referred to as a "Glory Trip" by Air Force personnel chosen to participate, was conducted to evaluate the Minuteman III Missile's guidance, propulsion and targeting systems. It also served to address a host of additional operations, which support the missile's mission as a nuclear global deterrence.

"Going on this trip has been a huge blessing for me," said Staff Sgt. Harrison Roberts, 341st Maintenance Group missile maintenance technician. "To come out here and see my work actually take flight and perform its mission perfectly just gives me that reigniting passion I need."

"This mission has been inspiring," Roberts said. "It could not have happened without the men and women of Malmstrom who perform their jobs on a daily basis behind the curtain, and who come together as a team to keep us safe from harm."