MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AFNS) --
The North Dakota plains are covered with patches of slushy snow and ice along stretches of long, winding gravel roads leading to local farms and other agricultural communities. Some of these rocky paths make their way to large buildings surrounded by tall steel fences topped with razor-sharp barbed wire.
These secure compounds are home to many Airmen from the 91st Missile Wing who operate and maintain the wing’s 150 launch facilities and 15 missile alert facilities scattered throughout Minot Air Force Base’s 8,500-square-mile missile complex. Each MAF is manned by a facility manager, missile combat crew, missile chef and security forces teams.
Tech. Sgt. Matthew Westad, the 742nd Missile Squadron facility manager, is in charge of one of five MAFs that fall under his squadron’s area of responsibility. Westad said he spends about 15 days each month deployed to his designated MAF. Being a facility manager involves fueling diesel generators in case the MAF loses commercial power. He also performs grounds maintenance and ensures the water they receive is clean and free of harmful minerals and other chemicals.
“I’m a jack of all trades,” Westad said. “When you are out here on the site, if anything goes wrong, it’s your responsibility to take care of it. They encourage us to do as much maintenance as we can. They also try to assign us to a specific MAF as well so it becomes our home where we do all the upkeep and small improvement projects.”
Staff Sgt. Frank Greenhalgh, a 91st Missile Security Forces Squadron flight security controller, verifies the authorization of every person who requires access to the MAF and manages all the facility’s security and communication systems.
“We coordinate with missile maintenance who’s going out to a launch facility and figure out what kind of security is going to be in place,” Greenhalgh said. “We also work directly with the missile combat crew downstairs, and they will relay alarm situations to us. For those alert situations, we will coordinate with security forces and get them dispatched out there to terminate whatever situation we encounter.”
Every 24 hours, new missile combat crews come to relieve their counterparts in the MAF’s launch control center. First Lt. Rachel Rountree, a 742nd MS missile combat crew commander, said the crews are responsible for the day-to-day operations as well as maintenance and security of the missiles within their control.
“As the missile combat crew commander, I’m in charge of everything that goes on in the flight area, including security, maintenance and any faults,” Rountree said. “It’s my responsibility to take care of all that with the help of my deputy missile combat crew commander. Additionally, I’m in charge of teaching my deputy commander to make sure he knows the proper procedures to respond to different occurrences in the missile complex, and ensuring that he has a solid knowledge base of our job.”
Airman 1st Class Baylee Hernandez, a missile chef, manages the MAF’s only kitchen to give the Airmen a taste of home for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Airmen can get a bit cranky when they are hungry after working long shifts,” Hernandez said. “That’s why I supply the food to all the people who sustain the mission here. While maintaining the missile complex’s intercontinental ballistic missiles is our wing’s top priority, I know I directly contributed to the mission by sustaining the morale of the Airmen who work out here every day.”
Each Airmen, from the facility manager to the missile chef, are responsible for ensuring the MAF’s readiness is maintained around-the-clock at each location in the missile complex, said Col. Robert Vercher, the 91st Missile Wing commander.
“There is no other Air Force unit, other than our sister ICBM wings, where we put this much responsibility on very junior Airmen,” Vercher said. “Whether it’s driving a nuclear weapons convoy or pulling nuclear alert duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week as the most responsive leg of the triad to the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, our young folks are proud, professional and very capable of doing their job.”