Minuteman Missile Launch Facility revisited

In Features
Richard Hartman / For the Daily Titan

We were gathered on a bright, sunny Saturday in the Little Belt Mountains of Montana to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Minuteman Missile Launch Facility to come on alert during the Cuban missile crisis.

There were plenty of clouds around, mostly piled up behind us on the higher peaks.

There had been a question about us going out there because it had been raining that morning in Great Falls, Mont.

But there it was, LF Alpha 06 sitting about 100 yards away and slightly changed since the last time I was at the site 40 years ago.

I was the team chief of an Electro-Mechanical Team (EMT), a basic troubleshooting and repair team, when we were diverted to A-06 because the Launch Control Facility (LCF) had lost contact with A-06.

We successfully penetrated the site and quickly discovered that the air conditioning duct to the equipment racks was lying on the deck, not in its normal location.

Quickly, we did an emergency shutdown of the missile and other battery powered equipment and called job control to get replacement power supply drawers because the ones on site had burnt out.

Afterward, I was told that the site was haunted, but during our meeting in Great Falls last week others were insisting that it is A-05 that is haunted. Maybe the spectre moves around.

This gathering had been initiated by the Association of Air Force Missileers (AAFM) two years ago.

I knew it would be a large gathering, but I had not realized how much the Air Force had bought into it.

I had visited the Missile Maintenance Squadron earlier in the week and received a warm welcome and a very detailed tour. They barely believed what I told them about our old squadron facilities.

It was enjoyable to visit with airmen that actually work on the sites and I think they appreciated having a visitor that understood missiles.

Upon our arrival at A-06, we were greeted by a Montana state trooper and a U.S. Forest Service police car that were at the access road to the site to make sure that other drivers behaved themselves as the buses turned into the road.

About half way uphill to the site the buses had to make a left turn through the cattle guard onto the ranch that is to the east and south of the LCF.

We watched with trepidation as the bus ahead of us churned up the road and started to lean over.

Thankfully, we all made it without disaster.

A helicopter arrived before I got out of the bus.

Inside the helicopter was our guest speaker for that night and the senior officer at this ceremony, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strike Force Command and a former missileer himself.

Richard Hartman / For the Daily Titan

He had been at LCF Charlie 01 earlier visiting the launch crew.

The ceremony had a somewhat serious tone, commemorating a time when our nation almost got into a nuclear war.

It was noted that President John F. Kennedy later referred to the Minuteman Missiles coming to alert status during the crisis as his “Ace in the Hole.”

There was no doubt that the Soviets knew that Minuteman Missiles, in their hardened shelters, were being made ready.

They were ready because of the effort of Air Force and contractor workers to bring up the first sites months ahead of schedule.

One of those contractors was located just a couple of miles from Cal State Fullerton, North American Aviation’s Autonetics Division in Anaheim, Calif.

They built the guidance system for the missiles.

This trip was a bucket list item that I can now check off. Somehow I knew 40 years ago that Minuteman would still be around.

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