F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --
Tracking travel in the 90th Missile Wing's 9,600-square-mile missile complex is a feat, especially considering Mighty Ninety Airmen travel more than 7 million miles annually to, and within, the field.
The 90th Logistics Readiness Squadron performs several functions in support of this momentous undertaking. One important role is the 90th LRS Transportation Control Function, which provides missile field travelers an extra set of eyes and ears, constantly updating them with road conditions and safety precautions -- especially important at night when one's own eyes might not suffice.
TCF Airmen provide missile field support 24/7, 365 days a year. Their night shift mission shares some similarities with the day shift, but they are very different.
Building 1270, where the TCF and 90th LRS Vehicle Operations are co-located, usually buzzes with activity: bay doors opening, vehicles starting and tires being filled with air. At some time in the evening, the noises dwindle to humming lights, the rushing Wyoming wind and the chatter of night shift TCF Airmen keeping each other alert throughout the night.
The role of the nighttime TCF at the beginning of their shift is to be there for Airmen returning from the field in the evening, said Senior Airman Joseph Bates, 90th LRS TCF controller. TCF controllers monitor the traffic in the complex and update drivers with information about road conditions and safety precautions.
"Our job is more of a reassurance to make sure everyone got back safely and everyone starts off their day safely," Bates said. "[We] make sure no one's out there by themselves -- that they have someone here to make sure they're safe."
The majority of calls the night shift TCF Airmen receive come from missile field security forces performing security checks and responding to alarms at missile sites, said Staff Sgt. Aaron Smith, 90th LRS TCF controller.
Other than monitoring traffic, the night shift reviews day shift records for discrepancies and gets the system ready for the next day.
Because the TCF is co-located with 90th LRS Vehicle Operations, the TCF Airmen also help get vehicles ready during their downtime, Bates said.
This preparatory work is greatly appreciated by 90th LRS Vehicle Operations, said Staff Sgt. Christian Huwer-Nurrenbrock, 90th LRS Vehicle Ops technician. Because of the work the TCF does at night, there are always vehicles ready for pick up.
"That means missile crews can pick up vehicles at any time," Huwer-Nurrenbrock said. "Vehicle dispatchers don't have to come in at [6:30 a.m.] before normal duty hours start at [7:30 a.m.]"
While some may dislike working night shift, most night shift TCF Airmen love their schedule, said Senior Airman Richard Cram, 90th LRS TCF controller
"I don't feel any different about it," Bates said. "I feel like I'm doing just as much as the person on day shift, I'm just doing it at night."
Part of their cheerful attitude toward their work comes from the culture of vehicle operations in the Air Force. As soon as training for TCF Airmen is complete, their leaders rely on them to perform missions independently and competently, Bates said.
"We're responsible for a lot of stuff from day one," he said. "When we come to TCF, we bring that mentality. This is my job. It's important and needs to be done."
Smith put it matter-of-factly.
"That's what we signed up for," Smith said. "Sometimes you do day shift, sometimes you do night shift -- that's the military."
Some TCF Airmen prefer the night shift because the schedule allows them to spend more time with their children when they are out of school, Cram said.
The mission these Airmen love serves a vital role for the nuclear deterrence mission, Cram said. Without the TCF's 24-hour, nighttime missile field travelers would not have access to up-to-date road conditions, and the only people tracking their movements would be their own chain of command.
"You need to have multiple people looking out for each other in the field," Cram said.
Airmen driving to, from or in the missile complex report to the TCF, which keeps tabs on who, what, when, where and why they are traveling.
Senior Airman Eric Knepper said people who feel uncomfortable driving on any road in the field should call and update the TCF as soon as possible. Doing so can prevent other drivers from taking an unsafe route, which can lead to collisions and injury.
"We're going to ask certain questions that correspond with [a decision matrix] to decide what the road condition should be," Knepper said. "'How far can you see? How deep is the snow? Are you losing traction? Do you have to be in four-wheel drive?'"
It takes a team effort of those in the field and the dedicated Airmen of the TCF to make sure missile field travel runs smoothly, Knepper said. Applying the team concept is important in any mission, but for the few who keep America safe through the night, teamwork is vital.