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Defending the nation's ICBM force

Members of the 341st Missile Security Forces Squadron perform a perimeter sweep March 16, 2015, at a missile alert facility near Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Security forces members regularly check the perimeter for any signs of a breach, as well as cleanliness. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

Members of the 341st Missile Security Forces Squadron perform a perimeter sweep March 16, 2015, at a missile alert facility near Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Security forces members regularly check the perimeter for any signs of a breach, as well as cleanliness. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. (AFNS) -- Before the sun has had a chance to peek up above the horizon, a two-person team opens the front door and steps out of a missile alert facility (MAF) into the chilly blackness. Their flashlights click on and they set off on a perimeter check. With one on the outside of the fence surrounding the MAF and the other right next to them on the inside, they begin a meticulous check of the MAF's exterior.

Once they are satisfied with the security of the facility, they head back inside for shift change and breakfast. Then, their next responsibility begins -- waiting. Not just idly sitting by, but being on constant alert and ready to respond to any number of threats that may affect the MAF they are deployed to, or any of the 10 launch facilities they are responsible for.

It is this grand responsibility which makes the security forces members in the missile field such a vital asset. Being the closest to the sites they are responsible for, they would be the first to respond to any incidents, essentially placing the security of the most powerful weapons in the world in their hands, and they handle this with collected professionalism.

"We aren't in Iraq or Afghanistan, but our mission is probably just as important," said Senior Airman Jared Kreiger, a 341st Missile Security Forces Squadron flight security controller. "If we make one mistake, because of the power of these weapons, it could change the world."

Having a mission which reaches global audiences puts a big spotlight on everyone involved, and perfection is demanded of the defenders, which they take to heart and strive for when guarding the MAFs and launch facilities.

"We really can't afford to slip up," Kreiger said. "As we've seen in recent media, people are watching - people are paying attention to what we are doing out here. It doesn't feel like that when all you see is fields and cows, but when I read about the last (base inspection), I read about it in the BBC."

In order to keep up a standard of excellence in the squadron, Kreiger tries to instill the importance of the mission into newer missile field defenders.

"One of my greatest accomplishments is training all the new people to do this job," Kreiger said. "Helping them realize that what we do is important, and hopefully they'll pass that along as this mission continues."

One of those new security forces members is Airman 1st Class Russia Zamarripa, a 341st MSFS security response team member. Taken under the wing of the more seasoned security forces members, she has learned a lot about the mission in her short time here.

"One of my favorite parts of being in the field is just getting to learn everything," Zamarripa said. "I didn't even know that there were missiles in Montana. Just knowing that there are nuclear weapons here and that we are securing them is pretty cool."

Being new to not only the missile field, but security forces as a whole, Zamarripa has had to adjust to the unusual schedule of a defender.

"I'm still learning," she said. "Just staying up during a night shift (is a challenge)."

A more universal challenge she encounters, however, is simply having to get along and work cohesively with a group of individuals.

"Having to work with a big flight, there are different personalities," she explained. "(I get through any difficulties) by staying positive and not letting things get to (me), and doing what (I'm) told mostly.

"But I'm really happy with this, it's not a bad job at all," she added.

Although it can sometimes be a source of stress, Kreiger said he believes the Airmen at the MAF are a resource to be used for the positive effects of comradery.

"We're almost like families out here," he said. "It's kind of cliché to say, but it's true. I don't really know too many people outside the people I post with. We live with them - we live here just as much as we live at home, so we definitely take care of each other."

Having a stable support structure in the missile field is especially important when living a life split between home and work.

"I know for the folks that are married, especially the ones that have children, it can be tough," Kreiger said. "And that's why we have to look out for each other. We're so close, so we're always there for each other."

This family-like support extends not only to the security forces personnel, but to everyone working at the MAF.

"You have to have a good working relationship with the missileers," Kreiger said. "Not just comradery, but good professional relationships with the others posted out here, whether it's the facility managers, the chefs or the missileers.

"We're all doing the same mission," he added.

Through comradery, knowledge in the mission and steadfast dedication, the security forces members from Malmstrom keep the ICBMs, which provide nuclear deterrence to the U.S., safe and on alert 24/7.

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