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Silent Sentinels: 90th MW alternate command post

First Lt. Allia Martinez, 320th Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander and 2nd Lt. Benjamin Lenos, 320th MS deputy combat crew commander perform checks on the strategic automated command and control system in a launch control center at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Nov. 6, 2016. The 90th Missile Wing sustains 150 Minuteman III ICBMs and the associated launch facilities that cover 9,600 square miles across three states. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

First Lt. Allia Martinez, 320th Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander and 2nd Lt. Benjamin Lenos, 320th MS deputy combat crew commander perform checks on the strategic automated command and control system in a launch control center at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Nov. 6, 2016. The 90th Missile Wing sustains 150 Minuteman III ICBMs and the associated launch facilities that cover 9,600 square miles across three states. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

A missile alert facility stands out among its surrounding in the F.E. Warren missile complex at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Nov. 6, 2016. This MAF can be used as the alternative command post for the 90th MW missile complex in case communication is lost with the main command post on F.E. Warren. The 90th Missile Wing sustains 150 Minuteman III ICBMs and the associated launch facilities that cover 9,600 square miles across three states. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

A missile alert facility stands out among its surrounding in the F.E. Warren missile complex at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Nov. 6, 2016. This MAF can be used as the alternative command post for the 90th MW missile complex in case communication is lost with the main command post on F.E. Warren. The 90th Missile Wing sustains 150 Minuteman III ICBMs and the associated launch facilities that cover 9,600 square miles across three states. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

First Lt. Terrence Dale Duarte, 320th Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander and 2nd Lt. Nikolas Ramos, deputy missile combat crew commander, sit at the control console inside the launch control center at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Nov. 5, 2016. When directed by the U.S. President, a properly conducted key turn sends a "launch vote" to any number of Minuteman III ICBMs in a missileer's squadron, two different launch votes are required to enable a launch. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

First Lt. Terrence Dale Duarte, 320th Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander and 2nd Lt. Nikolas Ramos, deputy missile combat crew commander, sit at the control console inside the launch control center at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Nov. 5, 2016. When directed by the U.S. President, a properly conducted key turn sends a "launch vote" to any number of Minuteman III ICBMs in a missileer's squadron, two different launch votes are required to enable a launch. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

Missileers from the 90th Operations Group attend a pre-departure briefing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Nov. 5, 2016. The briefing details the conditions of the 90th Missile Wing missile complex including weather forecasts and road conditions for their travel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

Missileers from the 90th Operations Group attend a pre-departure briefing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Nov. 5, 2016. The briefing details the conditions of the 90th Missile Wing missile complex including weather forecasts and road conditions for their travel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --

I headed out to the field on Nov. 6 for another day with the 320th Missile Squadron missileers. My mission was to gather intel about the alternate command post in the 90th Missile Wing missile complex.

 

The 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base contributes to the nation’s strategic defense by sustaining and operating 150 Minuteman III ICBMs and the associated launch facilities. The wing’s area of responsibility covers 9,600 square miles and requires a strong command and control system.

 

While the primary command post operates from the base, the missile alert facility I visited serves as an alternate command and control center. In case of an emergency at the base, a specially trained missile combat crew would take command of the operations across the entire missile complex.

 

“In the event communication is lost between the support base and the missile complex, that’s where the command post becomes the focal point,” said 2nd Lt. Marshall Black, 320th MS deputy missile combat crew commander. “We would then lead the wing in regards to communication, procedures and moving to higher states of readiness.”

 

The primary duty of the squadron command post is to ensure proper commitment of squadron sorties, added first Lt. Allia Martinez, 320th MS missile combat crew commander.

 

“If the U.S. President authorizes an ICBM launch, we ensure that the rest of the squadron is processing that command,” Martinez said. “We lead and direct actions to support the squadron and ensure the command is being accomplished.”

 

It takes a specially certified missile combat crew commander to lead this MAF which can double as an alternative command post.

 

“Being selected as the alternate command post commander comes down to our performance and our commander’s approval,” Martinez said. “Once we are selected, we conduct additional training, running through scenarios which consist of harder events and bigger picture scenarios. Both the commander and the deputy have to ensure they can handle the additional stress in order to be certified.”

 

As I entered the capsule, I noticed it looked like a typical launch control center. The only difference was the additional equipment required to execute command post duties.

 

“The key theme in running the alternate command post is leadership,” said 1st Lt. Holley Macpherson, 320th MS missile combat crew commander. “The equipment we use compared to the other alert facilities is pretty much the same, but it’s a completely different mentality when we head out. We are not just worrying about our flight; we have to think about the entire wing. If you are setting the standard, people are going to follow that and emulate that.”

 

As I watched them work, I could tell they had a lot to do, many checklists to follow and were receiving calls left and right by the other MAFs, asking for guidance and direction.

 

“Any issues that are experienced out in the field, we try to solve at the lowest level. That becomes our role out there,” Black said. “We are trusted out there as a crew to ensure the missile complex is taking care of day-to-day operations and solving issues at the lowest level.”

 

I was ordered multiple times to leave the capsule because they were receiving secure messages from their fellow MAFs. When not on the phone, the missileers worked side-by-side going over checklists and ensuring they had all their protocols accomplished throughout their 24-hour shift.

 

“We are working together out there,” said Macpherson. “Being able to support one another and communicating effectively is crucial and guarantees a more successful mission because we are all one team, one fight.”

 

On the two hour drive back to base, I reflected on the enormous level of responsibility which rests on the shoulders of two company grade officers. With so much at stake, it is good to know that such highly qualified leaders are constantly standing ready to take command if the need arises. Their dedication and skill assures enemies and allies that F.E. Warren is prepared to execute our mission at any time and under any circumstance in service to our nation.