AF missile officers get their ‘sea legs’

  • Published
  • U.S. Strategic Command Public Affairs
Through the Striker Trident nuclear officer exchange program, four hand-selected intercontinental ballistic missile officers assigned to various Air Force Global Strike Command units are broadening their horizons by serving multi-year tours with U.S. Navy Submarine Forces ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) units.

The recently-implemented program enables Navy and Air Force nuclear-qualified officers to gain an expanded view of the nuclear triad, as well as each leg's respective role in U.S. Strategic Command's deterrence mission. The four Air Force officers selected for the initial exchange are gaining first-hand experience with SSBNs, the most survivable leg of the nation's strategic forces.

"It is a great honor to be selected in the first group of participants in this program," said Capt. Patrick McAfee, who is serving a three-year assignment as a targeting assistant in the strategic forces, nuclear weapons and force protection directorate at Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. COMSUBPAC is also designated as USSTRATCOM's Task Force 134.

"After serving in ICBM operations and maintenance at two missile wings, I was interested in broadening my knowledge of strategic operations," he said. "I have already benefitted from learning about the complementary roles of ICBMs and SSBNs."

Before entering the exchange program in November 2014, McAfee was assigned to the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. He credits his father's service in the Navy for his eagerness to apply for the program and learn about SSBN and Navy operations, saying that "it seemed like a great opportunity to join my Air Force experience with my Navy roots."

Capt. John Mayer said his time with a Navy unit has reinforced his appreciation for the importance of teamwork. In December 2014, he began a two-year assignment as an assistant strategic targeting officer in the strategic forces directorate at Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Virginia. COMSUBLANT is also designated as USSTRATCOM's Task Force 144.

After leaving 20th Air Force headquarters at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, Mayer immediately noticed the close proximity in which SSBN crew members work.

"When you put more than one hundred men and women in a submarine underwater, in dangerous conditions with a challenging mission, good leaders can't help but build good teams," he said. "With everyone's safety dependent on the competence of their shipmates, a lot of good dynamics develop."

He went on to describe the operations of an ICBM crew, which often differ greatly from those in the SSBN community.

"An ICBM team might be composed of one missile combat crew member talking to a team chief 20 miles away and a missile maintenance operations center controller a hundred miles away; but they will likely never meet face to face," he said.

Capt. Cody daMota left the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, to serve his three years of "sea time" as an assistant nuclear weapons surety officer in COMSUBPAC headquarters' strategic forces, nuclear weapons and force protection directorate. He arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in May and said the program has already enabled him to see the mission through a wider lens.

"As young (company-grade officers and junior officers), we have a pretty narrow perspective on nuclear operations that is pretty much limited to what we do in our day-to-day jobs," he said. "This program has already significantly broadened my perspective.”

He also predicted that participants, present and future, will benefit from the experience and bring new ideas back to their respective wings and submarine groups, strengthening the deterrence force.

"I believe this program will provide an increased level of knowledge and appreciation for the bigger strategic picture and how everyone fits into it," he said. "This in turn will lead to higher job satisfaction and increased morale."

DaMota described his selection for the initial Striker Trident exchange as "a great honor," while acknowledging the responsibility that comes with the unique opportunity.

"We are breaking new ground in this assignment and charting a course for our successors," he said. "Our work here will set the tone for many years to come."

Like Mayer, Capt. Jessica Tiffany is serving as an assistant targeting officer in the strategic forces directorate at COMSUBLANT in Norfolk, Virginia. She started her three-year Striker Trident exchange in May, after serving with the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB.

She said that she saw a new and unique opportunity to serve in a joint nuclear environment and decided to apply for Striker Trident. She also noted how the program provides participants a fresh look at how their counterparts conduct deterrence operations and said she hopes to have some impact on the program for future Striker Trident members, where I can help make the program better.

"There are plenty of reasons a service does things one way or another," she said. "Sometimes the answer is 'because we've always done it this way' and with the changes to the nuclear enterprise, we (the Air Force and Navy) can make improvements to better accomplish USSTRATCOM's mission."