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Missileer reaches 500th alert

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Darius Frazier
  • 90 MW/PA

Capt. Tom Popp, Crew Commander with the 319th Missile Squadron, recently achieved a rare  milestone, reaching his 500th alert. 

“Throughout my seven-year career, I've never met another missileer who reached 500 alerts,” said Popp. “I've heard from some missileers more versed in missile history than myself that it hasn't been done since our mission fell under Strategic Air Command. Whether that's the case or not, it's still a milestone that I am immensely proud of.”

Going out on alert helps to ensure our Airmen are displaying their mission readiness in a vital mission.

“It is significant because it reinforces the time our Airmen spend in the field accomplishing this critical national mission and it illustrates that we never let it fail,” said Lt. Col. Robert Mack, commander of the 319th Missile Squadron.

Though it was something he looked forward to, Popp did have positive memories associated with his final alert.

“I did not believe it would be. Ask most missileers and they will tell you that they are looking forward to their last alert. I was no exception,” said Popp when asked if going out on his last alert felt bittersweet. “However, once I got into the capsule for the last time, I couldn't help but reflect on all the positive things this job has given me and it certainly became bittersweet.”

His dedication to the job is indicative of the hard work that goes into performing as an Airman.

“Captain Popp’s alert milestone highlights his sustained excellence, commitment, and professionalism over many years,” said Col. Deane Konowicz, 90th Missile Wing vice commander. “Less than one percent of missileers will ever reach 500 alerts, so it is clear that his dedicated service to our ICBM mission is a testament to our Air Force core values and indicative of all our Airmen who represent the 90th Missile Wing Wranglers.”

Standing alert is a tasking job that can have missileers traveling out to the field for weeks at a time.

“Being a missileer is a stressful job,” said Mack. “A lot of that stress is mental, especially when you realize we ask our missileers to be ready to turn keys on order and provide nuclear effects across the planet.”

Air Force Global Strike Command plays a pivotal role in the defense of the nation and the missileers are a key part in that.

“My advice to any missileer, especially new missileers, is to learn something new on every alert,” said Popp. “You can learn something new about the weapon system, your crew partner, your interests that lie outside of missiles - just learn something.”

Though he has stood more than 500 alerts, Popp is leaving the Air Force to pursue educational and professional goals outside the service.

“I'm separating from the Air Force in October to pursue my master's degree in environmental engineering,” said Popp. “While I'm excited for my upcoming opportunities, I will miss this chapter of my life and Air Force career."