Articles, Blog

F.E. Warren Air Force Base – Ready to Launch

November 8, 2019


– [Announcer] Your support helps us bring you
programs you love. Go to wyomingpbs.org,
click on support, and become a sustaining
member or an annual member. It’s easy and secure. Thank you. – [Narrator] The
mission of the airmen at F.E. Warren Air Force
Base in Cheyenne includes protection
and maintenance of 15 missile alert facilities and 150 Minuteman III
intercontinental
ballistic missiles. Always on constant 24 hour alert throughout a 9600
square mile area, the team is always
prepared to launch the land based component of
the country’s nuclear triad. – The men and women of
F.E. Warren Air Force Base, next on Wyoming Chronicle. (dramatic music) – [Narrator] Funding for
this program was provided by the members of the
WyomingPBS Foundation. Thank you for your support. – We lead off our discussion
on F.E. Warren Air Force Base with comments from Major General Ferdinand
Fred B. Stoss III. General Stoss is commander, 20th Air Force, Air Force
Global Strike Command, Francis E. Warren Air
Force Base, Wyoming. General Stoss is responsible
for over 12,000 people for the nation’s
intercontinental
ballistic missile force, organized into three
operational wings. In addition, General Stoss
oversees the 377th Airbase Wing at Kirkland Air Force
base, New Mexico, which provides critical support
to the nuclear operation and missile tech partners. – I’m Major General Fred Stoss, commander of 20th Air Force. 20th Air Force is a command
comprised of several wings to include three missile wings. The three missile wings
are headquartered in Great Falls, Montana, Minot, North Dakota, and the 90th Missile Wing, here in F.E. Warren Air Force
Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. 20th Air Force has been assigned to F.E. Warren Air
Force Base since 1993. The mission of 20th Air
Force is to provide lethal, safe and sure, long range,
precision strike fires. The missile aspect of this base started in the late
1950s with deployment of the Atlas D ICBM. F.E. Warren Air Force Base
was the headquarters for the 5th of six Minuteman
wings, that began in 1963 with activation of the 90th
Strategic Missile Wing. The men and women of 20th
Air Force provide the nation with long range, precision
strike, nuclear capabilities as we operate, maintain,
secure and support the powerful Minuteman
III weapon system. The Minuteman III weapon
system is powerful, accurate and reliable. This capability ensures that
our enemies are deterred and that our friends and
partners are assured. The ICBM force
provides the bulk of America’s day-to-day alert force and is the most responsive and stabilizing leg
of the nuclear triad. – With unprecedented access
our crews entered the elevator and descended into an active
nuclear launch capsule. It’s from this capsule and dozens of others
exactly like it spread across the
western United States, that the Air Force’s nuclear and missile operations officers, more casually known
as missileers, monitor and control our
country’s collection of 400 nuclear capable,
intercontinental
ballistic missiles. At the very front lines with cameras approved in
advance by the Air Force, we met two of the very
talented officers, also known as missileers. – Hello, I am
Lieutenant Janet Neufeld and I am originally
from Bangkok, Thailand. – Hi, I’m First
Lieutenant Tanner Faulkner and I’m originally
from Newalla, Oklahoma, and welcome to Alpha
Launch Control Center here in the 319th
Missile Squadron in
F.E. Warren, Wyoming. – [Craig] This control
center is well below ground, in fact it’s nuclear fortified. – [Tanner] That’s correct. – [Craig] What happens here? – [Janet] So sir, in out
launch control center, we are able to
control our missiles, so we do all of
our communications and all of our control
from this site. – [Tanner] So essentially
what we have is, this is what we call
our REACT console so it’s short for, Rapid,
Execution and Combat Targeting. From this console we’re
able to monitor up to 50 LFs or 50 sites with
nuclear weapons in them at a single time. – [Craig] You train often. What’s involved
with your training? – [Janet] In our training
we actually have simulators at base that look exactly
like the capsules, we have everything
from our console area to all of our com equipment, and that’s where we do
our monthly training so that we’re current on
procedures that we need to know. – [Craig] When you
enter in this space, the first thing
that you think about is, “Am I in the
60s?” (Tanner laughs) I mean this doesn’t look
like modern technology to me. – That is correct. That is, sort of one of the
challenges that we face is, this technology is
a little bit older but because it’s a little bit
older it kind of increases our security in being
able to control and help with cyber
security threats. It’s always a growing area
that we worry about but one of the sayings
I’ve heard is, “Security through antiquity.” So we use the older
equipment and it helps us, but it does make it
a unique challenge because we have to adapt to
that changing technology. – [Craig] You have an
awesome responsibility and I’m sure you both
have thought about that. What did you think about
before you came here relative to what it is
that you’re doing now? – So prior to being a missileer
before I even commissioned, I honestly didn’t know too
much about nuclear missiles. It wasn’t until I actually
went to technical training at Vandenberg Air Force Base,
that I learned more about it. And I was truly inspired by
my instructors, by my peers, and now that I’m here
actually operating, truly proud to be able to
be part of this mission. – [Craig] What were you
thinking before you came here? – Well, I actually had
very similar experience to Lieutenant Neufeld
where, nothing I knew about, when it came to
nuclear weapons is, what you hear in the movies,
what you see in the movies, and also we have used nuclear
weapons of course in the past on August 6th, 1945. And it wasn’t until I
had a first meeting with one of the squadron
commanders that really drove home
the importance of you are taking responsibilities of some of the nation’s
most important and dangerous weapons that they have and it was a very humbling
moment for me to understand, “Wow, I am going to be
responsible for these weapons.” But it’s an awesome
experience and it’s great. – I read this when somebody
described what you do. It said, “The truth is the job
is an awesome responsibility, “but it’s also deeply
weird.” (Tanner laughs) Would you agree with that? – I can agree sir. I think it’s unique
in a sense where, we’re spending 24 hours here, we’re just us two here together, so it is different
than most career fields where you have a lot
of responsibility. You have to alter your life to be able to keep
up with the schedule on everything that we
are required to do. – It must be different
than when you signed up to be in the Air Force. It’s still what
you’re doing now. Is that accurate to say? – That is accurate. So ’cause we’re operators
we constantly have to adapt and be flexible to different
situations whether if it’s maintenance issues
that we might be having or communication troubleshooting
that we might have to do versus just a normal
nine to five job, where you come in at nine you’re ready to leave
at five versus here, we are constantly on alert, 24 hours a day, seven
days a week, 365 and that communication back
and forth between crews and maintenance and
security forces is huge. – So often times you get
alarms and you have to respond. Do you know what’s
drill and what isn’t? Do you have that information
right up front or do you start your procedures
and you’re not sure? – So there are different
type of alarms, we do receive critical ones in which are alarms that we
should focus on as a priority. However, the best
thing to do for us is just sit within the console
and see what is going on. So we’ll get a fault on there or we’ll be able to see the status of the
launch facility. – And once you’ve
practiced launch sequences, I assume often. – Yes.
– And do you ever get to the point where
you don’t know whether this is real or
not, or do you always know? – We are always sure which
message we are getting and that’s like Lieutenant
Neufeld was talking about how we constantly train. We’re constantly being made
sure to up on our efficiency and understanding what
messages are essentially real, what’s the real deal
and what is not. So when that moment comes
when we need to execute, we are a 100% ready go
with full efficiency and ultimately full lethality. – And you must have
trust for one another. – Yes.
– Total trust? – Yes.
– I told totally trust him. I do.
– Yes, that is it. So that’s why we do
everything in pairs. Even down to
between the capsules everything has to
be done in pairs. – [Craig] And that’s
a good point because you two by yourself even if
you get a valid launch signal, you can’t launch the
nuclear weapon here. There’s another capsule
that also has to work in concert with
you, is that correct? – That is correct.
– Yes. – Yes we have to have the,
what we call, launch boats. So both we have to key turn
or execute on a launch command both myself and
Lieutenant Neufeld will key turn at the same time, while also in tandem
we need another capsule in the 319th to key
turn with us as well. That’s part of those
redundancies that we use to make sure that
we are executing, we are for sure executing. – Are you always in Alpha? Do you go to other capsules too? Or does it depend on the day or are you always assigned here? – So it just alternates,
to come to Alpha since it is a
squadron command post, you have to be qualified to
come to the command post. However, it just changes, you can go to Bravo one day, Echo one day, so on. – Are you two a team? – So we are not what we
would call an integral pair, or integral crew. So usually we try to have people
go out with the same crews. That way we can keep
the continuity but it’s also good way to if you
get out with newer people, then you learn different things, you learn different habits,
different personalities and that’s good because you never know who you’re
to be going out with on a certain day. – And between a crew usually
there’s a crew commander and a deputy. So in this case, Lieutenant
Faulkner’s my commander and I’m deputy and usually the commander
is more experience, has more knowledge so, they kind of look
out for the deputies, if they’ve got any
help or information or if they have questions. – Would you describe
this job as monotonous, exciting, somewhere in between? How would you describe this? – I would definitely say
it’s a little in between. So, sure, we’re on
alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sometimes during three
o’clock at night, it can be very quiet,
there’s not a lot going on, so we’ll either be studying our knowledge here in the
capsule, we have tons of books as you can see, we have
very large binders. – Checklists. – Head starter checklist
that we constantly have to brush up on, but also it’s encouraged that we
pursue further education. So like for myself I’m
pursuing a masters. So that is highly encouraged. – There are opportunities
to relax though, built in to your schedules. How does one relax 70, 80
feet below the surface, with the alarm maybe
ringing in 10 minutes or in three hours? – So we have a lot of downtime, if you’re not having
maintenance or any procedures that we
have to run through, we get to know each other a lot of crews just spend
time talking to each other, getting to know one another. Also some people bring
out, like he said, the others study materials
for their masters. I know some people
who bring out puzzles or boardgames, so something
to de-stress as well. – You train, often. How do you know everything
is in working order? How do you know that
when the time comes, how do you prove that
the system works? You do that as part
of your training? – Yes, so as Lieutenant
Neufeld’s talking
about every month, we practice, we practice
and we practice. The other thing is too is we, so couple of times a year,
at Vandenberg Air Force Base we have test launches. And those test launches
are very important not only to us pulling
mission here but it also ensures our allies and it also ensures, basically
our potential adversaries that these missiles do work and we can be 100% confident
that when we’re gonna key turn on these weapons they will, and those test
launches prove that. – So once you get an emergency
action message, what happens? – So essentially once we receive
an emergency action message we both process them together,
but also individually too. So that we are
able to ensure that what we are receiving
is authentic. – [Craig] And without getting
into classified details, how do you know? – So we have procedures
in place that allow us to authenticate that
if the president is wanting to execute a command
with using nuclear weapons, we have procedures in
place to authenticate that particular message. So we’ll receive the
message saying to execute and we will independently
authenticate and say, “This is in
fact a real message.” And then we’ll proceed forward with our execution checklists. – So this our authenticator,
we call our authenticator box. So in the event that
we actually have to execute a launch command both myself and
Lieutenant Neufeld, we both have our own
individual locks, so I have mine, she has hers. I don’t know hers and
she doesn’t know mine. That’s how we keep that sort of, what we call a
two person control in order to ensure that I
can’t access them by myself and she can’t access
them by myself. And we use those, as I
was talking about earlier, we use authenticators
to ensure that the messages we are
receiving is in fact an authentic message in order
to execute a launch boat. – You both live in Wyoming. What do you do in Wyoming? What do you do when
you’re not down here? – So in my spare time I
like to spend time outside since we’re underground here. I like to go to the park, go on walks. I’ve currently just
started flight training, so I’ve been able to
go on some flights and just spend
some time outside. That’s me (mumbles). – Yeah, the outdoor time and
just the downtime you have is really important because it allows you to
recharge batteries. And so if we like to play golf, well, actually both me and
my wife like to go play golf, go fishing, we like to go check out
the local parks and the local wildlife,
it’s really awesome. – Above ground we often
heard the term, MAF, which stands for
Missile Alert Facility. Below is where the hardened
launch control center is that we just visited,
but above ground there’s a facility that also
needs constant team support every hour of every day. – I’m Staff Sergeant James, I’m the facility manager
here at Alpha 01 Facility, and I manage this facility
on topside especially on a daily basis. Absolutely. We have a chef here, we
have security forces here, we have me as a
facility manager. The chef prepares food for
everybody living at the MAF at any given time and
as a facility manager, I make sure that all the
systems are running correctly and I make sure that everybody
is having a good time and making sure that also
the place stays clean and orderly. – On a day like today, there’s lots that
is going on here, extra to just what
you talked about. How do you manage that? – It’s a day-by-bay basis, some days we don’t have very
many visitors here to the MAF and some days we have a lot. It’s a team effort between
me and the security forces, here on the topside to
determine who can handle what at any given time. It’s time management and making
sure everything gets done that needs to get done. – So how did you find
yourself in Wyoming? – I find myself
in Wyoming because I applied for the job and
this is where they sent me but I’m so happy
to be in Wyoming. I love the culture
and the landscape, the weather, I
actually do love it. – Let’s go inside
and look around. – Absolutely.
– All right. Staff Sergeant we’ve come
inside a fitness center, which might be a surprise out in the middle of
the Wyoming prairie. – Absolutely. Physical fitness,
mental fitness and emotional fitness
are very important to the Air Force as a whole and we incorporate that into
our daily lives here at the Missile Alert
Facility by providing a gym and giving everybody
the opportunity because we’re here days on end to be able to maintain
physical fitness. The missileers who we’ll talk to in a different segment
of the program, maybe are only here for
24 hours and they’re gone. You and others are here for much longer periods
of time at times. – Yes, I’m here for
anywhere as much as three to five days at a
time on a normal basis and so having a
gym accessible to keep my physical fitness
ready is very important to me. As you enter the MAF, you immediately
see the SEC door, the security controllers office. Not allowed past there
with any electronic devices but as you go into the
main part of the MAF here. Yeah, so we try to maintain
a home feel lifestyle out here at the MAF because once again the
security forces members, me the facility
manager and the chef are out here for days on end. And being away from our
families can be taxing. So we have a television,
we have couches, we have tables, we have a pool table, as well. Many different things
to occupy some of the downtime that we experience. – And your sleeping
quarters are another part of this building. – Absolutely. Yes, we sleep here, we eat here, everything is done here at
the facility at all times. At every missile facility, we have facility managers, chefs, security forces
and the combat crew. We all work as a team. Everybody pulling
their own weight, to create the mission
as it goes forward. That global lethality and that missile
deterrence system that we have set up is
only possible because of the teamwork that we
have here at these MAFs. – As you can imagine
security at MAF sites, ICBM launch sites and
the Air Force base is highly prioritized. Suffice it to say a quick and lethal response
to any security threat is always on the mind of
F.E. Warren security forces and our cameras watched live
ammo training simulations. As you’ll see now. – I am Staff Sergeant
Kody Weissler, I’m from upstate New York, and I’ve been in the
military, the Air Force, for about four
years now just over. I’m part of the 890th Missile
Security Force’s squadron, our mission in the squadron is to provide a quick
armed response to any situations that
we may encounter out here in the missile complex. For the wing, ICBMs
is our main mission, so we have the reliability,
capability and ability to maintain the
deterrence for our nation. – [Craig] So tell me,
who’s responsible for your daily security plan? How does that work? – So I’m not sure how
to speak on that but when it comes to
our daily activities it’s going to be us as
security forces members. We’re the ones out here
doing the ground work and ensuring that
the missile complex that we are guarding
is safe overall. We’re the ones responding
to any situations that we may encounter. – [Craig] Tell us how you train. – So every day, we
are doing training while we’re staying out
here at the missile complex. We’re doing things
such as clearing rooms ensuring that our tactics
are as lethal as they can be. And then also when back
on base we’re doing things such as making sure we’re
confident in our driving in our Humvees and
the tactical abilities that we can bring
to those Humvees. We focus a lot of our training
around just being able to recapture any ICBMs
that we may encounter. So what I can talk about is,
that we’re always up to date on any adversaries that we
may encounter state side, and we kind of try to tailor
our training to those needs. We’re usually out
here from anywhere from three to five days. We cover about
96,000 square miles and we’re pulling
a 24 hour alert, twelve hour shifts and we’re
out here about half the year. Along with this Missile
Alert Facility we also provide security for over
150 launch facilities so within those
96,000 square miles there are multiple
different facilities that we also are
responsible for. So our job is important because without us we
can’t maintain that nuclear deterrence that we have. Without us again that we are more vulnerable
to any attacks either coming at us or even overseas. – So I’m Staff
Sergeant Lazarescu, with the 90th Security
Support Squadron tactical response force. I’m originally from
southern California actually and I found myself
here in Wyoming, this is my first base
that I was assigned upon the completion
of tech school. So our mission with the
tactical response force is to provide nuclear
capture and recovery as well as emergency
services teams. For nuclear capture and recovery anywhere that any weapon is
employed, stored, transported, should an adversary
try to take it, our job is to go
back and stop them and to reclaim that
nuclear weapon. As far as the emergency
services team, anything such as active shooter, hostage situation,
anything of that nature is a capability that we provide. So as far as training we have
several training locations such as a fake launch facility or fake building that
we call the shoot house. So what we do is for the
fake launch facilities, we train the entire
recapture process, from start to finish,
getting to the site, getting on site,
securing the area. For the building we
designate shoot house, it’s basically a fake building,
has fake rooms and such. We practice there every week, we practice clearing it out
with opposition forces in it without them in it, and the amount that we train and what we train on is what
gives us that capability to provide that
emergency services team. – [Craig] You train
with live ammunition. – As far as live
ammunition, yes we do. We train a few times a month in our shooting
range that we have, we do several drills that really enhance our skills. We also do train with
sim munition rounds, which are basically
paint tipped rounds. Those we can actually use
inside of our shoot house and at our fake
launch facilities, which the more
realistic we can get it the better off we are. – [Craig] People may
understand that your mission is 24-7, 365. – Absolutely, it is. Security in defense of these
nuclear weapons cannot stop it has to be constant
because of the destructive nature of
these nuclear weapons, they have to be safeguarded. We cannot let anyone who is
not supposed to touch them have access to them. – [Craig] What’s a normal
day for your units? – Normal day for us at the
tactical response force, we show up in the morning, once everyone is at our
building and accounted for, we decide what we want
to train on for the day. We grab our weapons,
we grab our equipment, we head out and
train for the day. We stay on base unless we’re needed out
here in the missile field. The individuals that do
stay out here are the, what we refer to as
tac squadron members. Tactics do absolutely change. We want to stay as
modern as we can. We want to have the upper
hand on any adversaries. So yes, they do change. How often is, it just depends. But we always are trying
to improve ourselves, improve our skill set
and learn new things. For some people like myself, this was my very
first assignment. When I first was
stationed at this base, I was stationed in the 90th Missile Security
Forces squadron, which is the squadron that
trips out to the field and stays out here
for several days. The ones that provide
the frontline security. Well, I did that job
for about three years and then I was able
to transfer over to the tac response force. So you can have people
coming fresh out of technical training
coming straight here. You can have guys
that have been in several years coming
from other bases or, such as overseas, some
people do deploy and then they do end up coming here. It’s really wherever
the Air Force needs him. – Maintenance of classified
complex communication systems is an important component
of an always ready ICBM force. And the maintenance team
at F.E. Warrens trains, troubleshoots and makes
certain the incredible array of communications systems
is always at the ready. – I’m Senior Airman Kroff, I’m a missile
maintenance team chief, here at Missile Communications. What we’re looking at here is the antenna pedestal
assembly for our extremely high frequency
satellite communications system. So this provides satellite
communications for the capsule via satellite in space. What we do mainly for
maintenance here at our level, it would be the motors. Elevation and azimuth motors
which provide positioning for the satellite, which
has to be very precise in order to speak to something
hundreds of miles away. So the system will
automatically notify a capsule of what errors will pop up and then it’s our
job to go out there, we go out there with equipment
and troubleshoot the issue and narrow it down to what
component we need to replace. So we are in charge of
15 of these antennas as well as our trainer,
which is behind me. We train on this system it’s identical to the ones
that are out in the field, which helps provide us with
our reoccurring training to keep our knowledge
up to date, on changes. So we’re responsible
for maintaining various communications
systems within the capsule, such as satellite, radio
and wired communications for those capsule crew members. Our main priority is to ensure that communication
is provided to those capsule crew members,
no matter the circumstances, no matter what’s asked of them, that when the
message comes through that they’re able to answer
it within a timely manner, and execute the order. – I’m Technical Sergeant Smith, I am the missile communications maintenance supervisor here
at F.E. Warren Air Force Base. Overall our role in
the ICBM maintenance is to ensure that the, missiles across all
three wings are on alert and capable of executing
an order if given. Maintenance on the Minuteman
III weapons system is divided into basically
three main career fields, you have those that
handle the missiles and the re-entry systems, you have those that handle,
take care of the facilities and you have those that like us that handle the
electronic systems. For the electronic systems that mostly covers your
security systems and your command
and control systems, the ability for
the capsule crews to send commands to the
missiles themselves. So the day-to-day
maintenance actions play a crucial role
in ensuring that these missiles launch
when given the order to and they also help
insure that they don’t launch when we
don’t want them to. ‘Cause once they’re launched they cannot be recalled. (dramatic music) – [Narrator] Funding for
this program was provided by the members of the
WyomingPBS Foundation. Thank you for your support.

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