Code change: Securing critical assets

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Apryl Hall
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
Once a year, the codes used to launch Minot Air Force Base's intercontinental ballistic missiles need to be updated.

The manual process requires hundreds of Airmen work around the clock for three weeks straight to ensure all launch facilities are accessed and the missile code change is a success.

"We change the codes every year to make sure those launch codes are as secure as they can possibly be," said 1st Lt. Paul Wolfe, a 740th Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander. "It's a way to make sure we have control of the missile at all times."

Throughout the three-week process, all three 91st Missile Wing groups come together as a team to complete the mission. Missile squadron members stay on alert at surrounding Missile Alert Facilities, or MAFs, ensuring communication is clear and constant throughout the change.

Security forces defenders guard the launch facilities during the change to ensure maximum security is in place. Missile maintenance crews are responsible for the actual change, from opening the site to physically changing the codes.

"We open the site and we're the last ones to leave," said Staff Sgt. Michael Swain, the 91st Missile Operations Squadron facility maintenance team instructor and penetration team member. "We could be out there for over 20 hours, but I love it! It really puts us in the mindset that what we're doing is significant."

Not only do the different groups work together in the field, but they also embrace the extra company at the MAFs. With the maintenance teams and the extra defenders, the number of people staying at the MAFs increases drastically during code change.

"I've been getting to know enlisted members, and it's been awesome," said 2nd Lt. Chris Collins, the 740th Missile Squadron deputy missile combat crew commander. "This opportunity isn't afforded but once a year, and it's great for missileers like me who really like that interaction."

Despite being substantially busier during the code change, the Airmen working around the clock still view the change as crucial in more than one way.

"It's a busy alert load, but it does build camaraderie," said Collins, a first time participant in code changing. "Also, by changing the codes it makes it more difficult for any adversary to know what we're doing and how we're doing it. I think it increases the importance of our mission."

Airmen involved in the code change completed in just three weeks what they practice for nearly four months. Whether they were at a site working on a missile or behind the scenes ensuring the safety of our nation's assets, the team worked together to accomplish one of the Air Force's biggest peacetime missions.

"It represents our nation's sovereignty," Collins said. "It says, 'Hey, the United States is the real deal.'"