19 May, 2012

Profile 66: FINAL - LGM-30G as flown by the 91st SMW

And there it is - an LGM-30G.  Or, as I'd heard them called before, "Minuteman III missiles."

For the time being, it's the most accurate illustration of such a device available to the public.  But you should also know this - it's the only illustration of such a device, too.

Typically, I list the name of the veteran who flew/crewed/used whatever 'thing' in the headline.  But for the next four or five minutes, I'd like to keep his name anonymous.  Why?  Because, in his own words, he represented an 'anonymous' service.

"I'm proud of being a Missileer," he said.  "And no one knows what we do.  You need to tell our story."

I have to admit - I knew so little about them, I thought "Missileer" was one of those slang names used to describe people.  Sort of like "gear head," "foodie" or "Army brat."  However, I now know the truth of the matter - Missileers are the last human human link before nuclear Armageddon.

There's nothing slang or casual about Missileer.

I've learned much about this fascinating and sobering group of men and women.  But for me, one of the most striking moments occurred when my patron slid a DVD of the seminal TV movie, "The Day After" across my conference table.  "Watch this. There's a part you need to watch," he said.

The screenshot below is of that scene.  Evidently, the missile launch sequence was filmed at an Air Force training facility.  Here, Missileers learn the elaborate and deliberate process of launching a nuclear ICBM.  Notice the dymo-taped word, "Gently" above the ominous 'launch key.'

Hold that thought, I need to take a rabbit trail for a moment.

In my interviews, I ask a lot of questions and there's a system to them.  But this time, they went by the wayside.  The sheer nature of what was at-hand tempted me to lose discipline and cut to the chase of what I was really thinking -   "So.  Could you really have done it?!"

In other words, did he really have the gall to push the button and launch World War Three?!

"Absolutely," he said without a moment's hesitation.

"You robot!" I thought, surprised at my own repulsion at his apparent reflex.

Now, don't get me wrong.  This wasn't the first time I'd had contact with world destruction.  When I interviewed Morris Jeppson  - the Bomb Electronics Officer on the Enola Gay - I was and remain gung-ho on the decision to level Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  But here?  Today!?  I thought this missile-guy might have been nuts.

He knew what I was thinking, too.  "Look.  You have to know something about those missiles," he said, leaning forward over the table.  "The nukes aren't the deterrent for nuclear war.  And...they never were."

I wasn't expecting that.

"We are the deterrent." He pointed to his chest with his thumb.  "It's not the missile.  It's the training, the focus and the ability of the people to actually do the undoable that's the deterrent.  As long as we're ready, as long as we're able..."

 I finished his sentence.  "...you won't." 

"Correct.  At least in dealing with rational people, anyway."

"Like the Soviets!?"

"Yeah.  I think we all considered our Soviet counterparts of equal mind."  He rested back in the chair.  "We wouldn't do it because we were totally prepared to do it. See?  That's why you're doing this missile.  I want my grandkids to know."

Grandkids!  What a word to come up when discussing the destruction of most of the human race!  And this is a good time to look up again at that screen shot.  Here's why the word "Gently" is so significant.

During training, the Missileers go through the drill of actually launching the nukes.  All the drama, all the checks, all the pressure is brought to bear on these men and women to ensure that when the time comes, they can assuredly counter a nuclear assault.

There are no big-red Launch Buttons.  Instead, the launch is executed by inserting and turning a Launch Key.  During this training, the tension is so great, keys have been ripped-off in the socket!  Hence, the reminder - "Turn the key, gently."  But only in the Training Facilities because in the real, operational missile sites, it doesn't matter if you break the key off because...there won't be anyone around afterwards to care.

The term "Missileer"?  Chances are good you were like me and hadn't given them any regard before this project.  But now, they'll never be forgotten.

Note to the politicians of the world:  Gently, indeed.  There are grandkids to think about.

This illustration and posting courtesy of Bob Groman (91st SMW).

To people interested in having prints of this missile, click here.

To people who are still wondering what missiles actually do, the illustration below should leave no doubt.  Image ©National Park Service