An unsinkable team

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- The security response team came in early for a shift change on the night of June 28, 2014, said Staff Sgt. Deshaina Dawson, 91st Missile Security Forces Squadron flight security controller. The rain had been falling for a couple days and water was already pooling around the launch facility.

After reviewing the cameras and assessing the situation, Airman 1st Class David Moier III, 91st MSFS security response team member, and his teammates went into action.

"The water was about nine inches deep when we arrived out at M-03," said Moier. M-03 is a missile complex that is monitored by missile security and flight security controllers.

Although they faced harsh rain and violent driving winds, they didn't let that hinder their response, Moier said.

As soon as the team arrived at the site, they began checking the surrounding culverts for blockage, then built a berm out of dirt and rocks surrounding M-03. With buckets, shovels and even ammo cans, they scooped water away from the blast door using anything they could find.

"The water just kept coming," said Moier. "There was no way to keep it off site, but we did all we could to keep it away from the resource."

Even with all of their training, no one could have prepared for what awaited them, Moier said. They had no idea the situation was as bad as it was.

As the SRT fought back the water to the best of their abilities, Dawson kept track of who was on site, what was going on and relayed messages to Col. Michael Lutton, 91st Missile Wing commander.

"Everyone knew what they were doing, and everyone did their part," said Dawson. "It made my job a lot easier and less stressful."

The 91st MSFS SRT maintained the water levels with their four-man team until more help arrived.

Next on site were a few members of the 791st Missile Security Forces Squadron, who went out to assist with building a more efficient berm and shoveling water to keep the flood away from the launch closure door.

"The heavy rain and winds were tripping alarms off across the entire missile complex," said Staff Sgt. Blake Radey, 791st MSFS response force leader. "All of us started shift early to go respond and handle business."

They also assisted with establishing proper road markings, such as cones and reflectors, for traffic control and safety, said Senior Airman Justin Hiers, 791st MSFS mobile fire team leader.

It wasn't long until members of the 91st Maintenance Group arrived to deliver sandbags and several water pumps around the site to help deter more of the water flow.

"We slowed the water down, but we noticed that even with all of the sandbags it was still coming through," said Master Sgt. Shaun Meicher, 91st MXG NCO in charge of the missile maintenance operation center. "The culverts still worked, but there was so much water they couldn't keep up."

The teams worked diligently over the next ten hours. They battled chest-high waters that threatened M-03 until the rain began to let up, allowing the team to finally get ahead of the water flow.

"I was really happy with the teamwork, it seemed to really flow," said Senior Airman Ashley Ihrig, 791st MSFS response force member. "Everyone immediately started helping when they arrived. We all found a task, and then switched around as necessary the whole time."

Airmen of all ranks worked together through the night to protect the site until approximately 7 a.m., only taking breaks to avoid the cold for a few minutes.

"I didn't plan on seeing many people out there, but the wing commander, group commander and various other 91st Missile Wing leadership elements were there as well," said Radey. "It was good to see even the highest levels of leadership out there on the ground with us."

A common theme among everyone involved was teamwork. No matter who was talking about it, they always mentioned how everyone worked together to ensure mission capability.

"The teamwork was truly phenomenal," said Lutton. "Maintainers working side-by-side with defenders to keep the water from the launcher closure door, then additional maintainers arriving with large pumps to remove the water. In fact, two of the maintainers had final-outed that Friday, but heard about the need for support."

"I had recently taken command, and there was much talk off-station about morale in our nuclear force," Lutton added. "I saw superb leadership and motivation across the team--defenders, maintainers and operators. I saw one mission, one team."

According to Lutton, due to the collective efforts of the Airmen, they potentially saved the Air Force $7 million by preventing water from going into the site and impacting missile alert status.

"The rough cost of a missile receiving water damage could exceed $7 million, really all dependent on the extent of damage. Then the cost is maintenance and security workload to remove and replace the missile," said Lutton

"It makes me feel very proud to have been a part of something this huge, but what makes me more proud is the job done by my team. They selflessly threw themselves at a challenge that most of us haven't seen before," said Hiers. "Without hesitation, my team followed orders, performed with pride and completely demonstrated service before self."