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Teamwork: Shared common experiences

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Bill Barrington
  • 90th Missile Maintenance Squadron commander
I recently returned from a six-week temporary duty assignment to Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., as the Task Force commander for Air Force Global Strike Command Force Development Evaluation Glory Trip 203GM. I was privileged to lead a group of 21 ICBM professionals from the Mighty Ninety chosen to remove a missile from the fields of Colorado and place it on alert at Vandenberg. What impressed me most was the teamwork displayed among task force members and between members of the 90th Missile Wing and the 576th Flight Test Squadron.

Because each and every test launch provides valuable data on the health of our weapon system, every aspect is inspected, tested, instrumented and verified prior to launch. Bringing together the current field experience provided by our technicians and the unique test requirements resident in members of the 576th FTS was one of the most impressive displays of teamwork I have seen. Communication was essential as members of the two organizations worked shoulder to shoulder ensuring all operations and maintenance actions were accomplished. Phrases such as "perfect" and "eye-watering performance" were used to describe the preparation.

This was not a matter of luck; rather it was indicative of the dedication, training and professionalism of everyone in the ICBM enterprise. Several task force and 576th FTS personnel are friends and former co-workers. As we experienced during this FDE, it is the relationships, reputations and teamwork developed throughout your career that carry you through situations that are different, challenging or somewhat "out of the norm." When something seems different, or makes you unsure, having someone you know and trust to show why it is different, to review the task with or aid in the execution is a reassuring feeling.

The schedule also allowed for some professional development opportunities that increased the team's overall knowledge. All members received a Minutemen III operations overview briefing covering events from ignition and liftoff to impact in the South Pacific. Missile combat crew members spent several days on the launch facility with maintainers learning the intricacies of their jobs. In return, the crew members provided the maintainers with an orientation and familiarization of launch control center operations. Learning the intricacies of how other team members perform their jobs helps provide a strategic understanding of the weapon system and all its components -- personnel and mechanical -- as a whole, ultimately increasing each Airman's understanding of how they help provide nuclear deterrence for the United States. This education makes everyone stronger and more valuable to the team.

Our task force experienced a very different ending to our FDE than most teams. The launch was postponed by AFGSC pending post-launch analysis of a previous Glory Trip that experienced an in-flight anomaly. Rather than watching the missile launch, we were directed to remove components from the LF and return them to storage.

While we were not able to launch the missile we had assembled and monitored for the last six weeks, this task force was successful for several other reasons. The increased weapon system knowledge will benefit us as soon as we perform our next alert or dispatch. The professional relationships that were strengthened between the maintenance and operations teams and increased knowledge of each other's jobs and challenges of those jobs will benefit everyone. They can now put a face with a voice on the other end of the Support Information Network line, or have a firsthand understanding of the time and effort required for missile maintenance actions. Everyone involved did their job spot-on and used their expertise to provide learning and cross-flow for both organizations.

When the decision was made to postpone the launch, the first instinct is a sense of disappointment. However, I quickly realized this decision was not something I could affect. I could only decide how I would react and carry on. What was most important was to grasp the change in mission and begin planning for something different and unexpected for the team -- removing the missile from the silo and returning it to storage. At the end of the mission we will ensure that the weapon system is safe, secure and effective -- whether it is splashed down in Kwajalein Atoll or delivered safely to a storage bunker on Vandenberg.

The team from the Mighty Ninety included missile combat crews and maintenance teams representative of their units. The operations team members were Capt. Troy Jackson, 319th Missile Squadron; 1st Lt.'s Caitlin Olson, 321st Missile Squadron; Peter Dobbins, 320th Missile Squadron; Ashley Stewart, 321st MS; Jeremy Wyatt, 320th MS; and 2nd Lt. Erin Gentile, 319th MS. Maintenance was led by 1st Lt. Chris Wood and Master Sgt. Tad Marshall, both with the 90th Missile Maintenance Squadron. The Electro-Mechanical team was Staff Sgt. Ben Eckman, and Senior Airman Aurelio Magallon, both with the 90th MMXS. Missile handling team members were Staff Sgt. Neil Inman, Senior Airman Rusty Tinnon, Senior Airman Chris Hermosillo and Senior Airman Andrew Haynes, all with the 90th MMXS. The missile mechanical team was comprised of Tech. Sgt. Will Rogers, Staff Sgt. Ray Smith, Senior Airman James Drews, Senior Airman Ryan Salery and Senior Airman Stephen Dinoble, all with the 90th MMXS. All teams were under the watchful eyes of Tech. Sgt. Randy Burtis, 90th Missile Operations Squadron. Additionally, this would not have been possible without the teamwork of ever member of the 90th Missile Wing keeping the mission going while we were away. Although a void was left at work and home while these 21 personnel were TDY, the knowledge they gained will be passed on to the wing to benefit everyone.

So, did we have a successful FDE? While we were not able to provide weapons system accuracy and reliability planning factors to the commander of United States Strategic Command, the ultimate goal; I think we were successful in increasing the experience, knowledge, and teamwork of all task force members.