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The cornerstone of nuclear operations

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Anita Feugate Opperman
  • 320th Missile Squadron commander
"Proficiency is the cornerstone of nuclear operations, there is no room for incomplete knowledge or substandard performance."

These words are spoken every day in the 90th Operations Group by the pre-departure briefing officer prior to sending missile combat crew members on alert. Why is proficiency so important?

The job we do in the Mighty Ninety and the jobs done by all the women and men across Air Force Global Strike Command are second to none. We are charged with ensuring a safe, secure and effective nuclear force to support the president of the United States and combatant commanders. If we are not proficient, we cannot carry through on this responsibility.

Within the operations group, the passing grade for monthly weapon system, codes and emergency war tests is 90 percent, but the benchmark is 100 percent. This may seem a near impossible feat, but for a crew member who puts proficiency first, it is easily within reach.

Tests are not a substitute for performance on the job, but they are a good indicator of how seriously a person is taking their role in nuclear security. These test scores show if a crew member is taking the time to study basic concepts.

They can also reveal if you are rushing through it because you're more interested in being done with training and testing than demonstrating and applying what you know.

You might be wondering why the standards are so high. A friend I was stationed with at the 392d Training Squadron, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., -- where all of our missile crew members get their initial training -- used to equate this high expectation to that of another profession with perfection as the standard.

He'd ask his students what 10 percent of knowledge and understanding was okay for a surgeon not to know. The answer is of course, none. That's the same for nuclear weapons.

Proficiency in the Minuteman III system is not something any of us is born with; it takes time and dedication. Sometimes it isn't easy and you may need to dedicate your off-duty time, but really, being proficient in our individual jobs is what is expected of us and what the Air Force pays us to do. Learning and practicing checklists, studying with your crew partner or team members and asking questions when you don't know what something means or how a piece of equipment operates are all part of becoming proficient. We should all strive to be the person others turn to when they are having difficulty understanding a concept or task; we should each strive to be the nuclear expert.

The American people and, our allies, count on us to be 100 percent adept in our jobs of operating, securing, maintaining and supporting the nuclear enterprise. The only way to ensure you are doing your part to provide a safe, secure and effective force is to be an authority in the nuclear profession by taking the time to ensure you have complete knowledge to be proficient.