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Reflection on the past

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Samuel Couch
  • 90th Missile Wing Command Chief
After serving in the United States Air Force for over 25 years, I feel fortunate to have been a part of some very exciting times.

I joined the Air Force towards the end of the Cold War, and was first stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. During my first couple of years there, we still had F-15 aircraft on constant alert at various remote locations in Alaska.

I recall being on temporary duty at Galena, Alaska, and I had the privilege of performing an alert launch on my aircraft to intercept a Russian aircraft that was in violation of U.S. airspace. This moment motived me to continue serving and has allowed me to be part of countless other meaningful events throughout my career.

Some of my most memorable moments were during my deployments to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. While flying sorties 24 hours per day, we also had F-15E Strike Eagles sitting alert for immediate response to coalition forces that required close air support.

I can still hear the radio calls, "Scramble, scramble, scramble...this is Strike Ops with an F-15 alert scramble." Before the dispatcher could complete the radio call, my Airmen would bust out of the building and I could hear the distinct sound of the F-15 jet fuel starter. Within minutes, the two aircraft were at the end of the runway with engines already in afterburner.

Those were exciting moments and I was always proud of my Airmen as I saw the aircraft rotate into the dark skies of Afghanistan. I would watch them until I could no longer see the glow of the afterburner.

Recently I had the privilege of witnessing another amazing event that will be in my mind forever. I was fortunate to watch a test launch of a Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

We started the weekend by visiting with the missile maintainers that were responsible for removing the weapon system from a launch facility in Colorado and then building the system back up at the launch facility at Vandenberg AFB, California.

I had the opportunity to meet with the missile combat crews that had been pulling alert in the launch control center for the past 30 days. I could sense their excitement as they were quick to talk about their recent experiences and the events that would unfold over the next 48 hours.

We continued the day by visiting the Western Range Operations Control Center and received a mission briefing for the next day's test launch. I was impressed with the level of attention to detail that goes into preparing for a test launch.

As the day ended, we visited the Vandenberg museum where I gained a new perspective on the history and the progression of the weapon system, as well as the Airmen that maintained, supported, secured and operated the ICBM over the past 55 years - since the first Atlas went on alert at Vandenberg.

As the night of the launch approached, various groups convened at the viewing site in preparation of the early morning activities. While the countdown progressed, the excitement continued to build.

After a few delays, the crowd gathered in the viewing stands with anticipation of the launch. The weather was serene; not a cloud in the sky or any fog in sight. We were in a perfect location with an unobstructed view of the launch facility.

There was total silence in the crowd, and total darkness. We could hear the last few checklist items being completed on the intercom system and the final countdown began. "Five. Four. Three. Two. One."

As the launcher closure door opened, we saw smoke, a bright red flame and finally an amazing sound and the red glow of the rocket engine as the missile climbed upward in the sky until the first stage detached and the flame began to flicker out of sight. I truly felt humbled as I tried to capture every sight and sound in my mind.

I thought of many other people that should be there to witness this event. The Airmen back at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, that had maintained the missile for all the years that it was on alert, the defenders who provided the security, the Airmen that had supported the missile field and maintained the vehicles that had been driven thousands of miles, the missile chefs that had prepared countless meals at the missile alert facility, the teams that ensured the medical readiness of the wing and the missile combat crews that had pulled alert and were prepared to launch that very missile at a moment's notice.

It was an honor to witness the launch, but more importantly it is an honor to be part of such an amazing team of professionals.

The world has changed a lot in the last 25 years. While the Cold War might be over, we still live in an unstable environment. I sleep well at night knowing that the Airmen of the 90th Missile Wing are deterring any would be adversary from testing the resolve of the United States of America.