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Lessons learned in the missile complex

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- As part of an effort to knock out multiple public affairs tasks, I spent a night at a missile alert facility. At the risk of coming across as a missile field newbie, I would like to explain what I learned about the operations in the field and the ICBM Airmen who conduct them.

The first thing that stuck out to me was the drive out to the site.

The whole wing is constantly reminded about safe driving through safety briefings, when getting a government driver’s license, at commander’s calls and so on. Listening to the information, I would always nod my head in approval, of course, but upon driving out to a site for the first time alone, the importance of safe driving habits really sank in.

The site I visited is one of the go-to MAFs for tours, partially because of its relative ease of access due to a good amount of paved roads. Still, I found myself driving along stretches of dirt and gravel roads, up and down hills and making sharp turns.

Driving on the roads was not as easy as I thought it would be, but I can imagine how someone might become complacent doing so after many trips. I can also see how that would be extremely dangerous.

In a lot of areas, the side of the road leads to a drop off, and a rollover or skid could happen very easily. It would be easy to miss another vehicle coming over the next hill, and everyone tends to drive in the center of the dirt roads, so awareness is a must when driving in the field.

Once I arrived on site, I was met with the usual strict security entry measures, and once I got my camera equipment squared away, I began work on the tasks for which I was assigned.

I could not help but notice the hard work of the facility managers and chefs out in the field. They are basically on duty the entire duration of their three- to five-day deployments to the missile complex. I also felt surer of the security of our ICBM force when I saw the defenders vigilance, even as my own eyelids started drooping.

Seeing all the Airmen conduct their duties round the clock gave me a greater appreciation for the men and women who operate in the missile complex.

As a husband with a young son, it was difficult enough leaving the family for the night I was there, but I was well aware that I was the only one to go home to my family early the next day. There are a lot of single Airmen out in the missile complex at any given time, but we have a lot of families to thank for giving up their husbands, wives, mothers or fathers for days at a time.

The next thing I learned was exactly how knowledgeable our Airmen are about nuclear deterrence.

I spoke at length with the incoming missile combat crew about what they do and what they think about their mission. Any time you talk with a missileer about missiles or deterrence, you will learn something.

I give credit to their training at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and the additional training they receive here. I have never met a missileer who cannot go into detail not only about what, but why we do everything we do for the nuclear deterrence mission.

Spending the night at the MAF afforded me the opportunity to have a lengthier version of one of these conversations.

The trip to the field was definitely an eye-opening experience, but despite everything I learned I am sure my knowledge of missile operations is still just a drop in the ocean.

I recommend everyone stationed at F.E. Warren learn as much about the amazing mission of the wing as possible. The more we learn about the mission, the more we learn just how important our specific roles are. When you know more about the overall mission here, you will be more excited about the work you do every single day as an ICBM Airman.