A day in the life of a missileer: Preparation

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Christen Downing
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
Before F. E. Warren's missile combat crews ever begin their 24-hour alerts, many tasks must be accomplished.

Just like many other jobs at Warren, missileers arrive on base at approximately 7:30 a.m to begin preparing for their trip to the missile field.

Missile combat crews are made up of two missileers, a commander and a deputy. Capt. Caitlin Olson, 321st Missile Squadron ICBM combat crew commander, led her crew with Capt. Aaron Alam, 321st Missile Squadron ICBM deputy combat crew commander, March 25.

"There is a lot that goes into actually preparing for the alert, taking the alert and making sure the capsule is configured properly," Olson said. "The alerts are 24 hours, but you get to base pretty early the day of your alert. Sometimes you don't get back from alert the next day until four or five p.m., so it's really a lot more than 24 hours."

The deputy is responsible for the vehicle the crew will take out to the field that day: checking the fluids, tire pressure, belts and hoses, all connections, radio and gas.

Once complete, the deputy meets the crew commander in the squadron room to review the mission data card. This card is an overview of the status of the missile alert facility and launch facilities. It details the status of all communications pertaining to their site and whether or not they need to pick up supplies before leaving base.

The crew has called out to the site to ensure the accuracy of the card and it is now 8 a.m. -- time for mass brief.

The pre-departure briefing officer informs all Airmen dispatching to the field that day of the road conditions, weather, maintenance taking place, security status of the LFs, duress words, classified issues, etc. The group commander also gives his commander's intent at mass brief.

After this briefing, which can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as an hour and a half, the group separates into squadrons for mission planning.

"We get the big picture in mass brief," Olson said. "And then we go into mission planning to refine what we talked about in mass brief, what we have going on that day, how we need to prepare, what risk factors are involved, how familiar we are with the tasks being performed and we come up with the crew plan to deal with whatever is going on that day."

Once everyone is on the same page, the crews load their vehicles with cold weather gear required during colder months -- October through April -- a briefcase to carry any classified documents or mandatory action letters, crew cell phone, toiletries, clothes, books, movies and food. Each crew also brings technical orders.

"Those are our bread and butter," Olson said. "There is a checklist for everything. Any time we are doing an action out in the field it's in a checklist somewhere, so our TOs are our main unclassified regulations for how to accomplish our various actions throughout the day."

If the Mission Data Card indicated a need for linen or Missile Alert Facility and Feeding Operations, then the crew would pick these items up before departing base. Other supplies that may be needed to restock the MAF include salt for the MAF's parking lot, air filters and cleaning supplies.

After preparing the vehicle, attending the Mass Brief and mission planning meeting and gathering any extra supplies, the crew is ready to depart for the MAF.

"The driving time varies to each MAF," Olson said. "Some are over a two-hour drive where others, if you're lucky, are just over an hour."

Depending on the distance, the crew will generally arrive on site around noon.

The facility manager briefs the crew on any safety hazards, new write ups or danger tags on site. They then put in a lunch order with the chef. Lastly, the FSC briefs the crew on security issues, including weapon status, road conditions and maintenance. This brief serves as an update from that morning's mass brief.

Olson and Alam are finally ready to take the elevator down 60 to 100 feet to enter the Launch Control Center, but the preparation has still yet to be complete.

They work with the off-going crew to perform changeover, where they account for every classified item in the capsule. Changeover culminates with the positive control material document inventory. Olson and Alam sign for their alert and custody of the 10 ICBMs. This process takes about one hour.

Olson and Alam have already put in over a half day's work and are just now ready to begin their alert.

The preparation is crucial, according to Alam.

Missileers typically pull six to eight alerts per month. Much of the month consists of three-day "ripples." The member is on alert day one, trips back day two and trains on base day three.

On top of pulling alert duties, missileers must take and pass three tests and one trainer ride each month. The tests are broken into Emergency War Order training, weapons system and codes.

"It can be exhausting sometimes, especially when you're on the ripple and you're going out every three days," Olson explained. "It can wear you down pretty quickly, but just knowing the importance of what you're doing sometimes helps put it in perspective, and if you keep that in the back of your mind why you are going out on alert and what you really are doing, that can help."

Despite the monotony of the job and the long hours spent driving out to alert, it is the people who keep this crew going.

"I get through it by having good people around because we're all going through it at the same time," Alam said. "We joke around a lot, but when it's time to be serious, we are dead serious."

"You are never alone out there," Olson agreed. "Sometimes people think it is kind of isolating down there but you have so many people you can reach out to and that you know will be there.

"The people are definitely the greatest part about this job. We have awesome people."