50th Anniversary of ICBMs celebration brings large crowd
By Airman 1st Class Cortney Paxton, 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 19, 2012
MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, MONT. --
On Oct. 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy addressed the United States on "unmistakable evidence" of ballistic missile launch sites and nuclear-capable jet bombers placed in Cuba by the Soviet Union. This address was the first time more than 100 million Americans became aware of what is known today as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
During his address, Kennedy announced a strict quarantine of military equipment being shipped to Cuba that would remain in place until all weapons were dismantled and withdrawn from the country. He also assured the nation that any nuclear missile launched from Cuba would be seen as an attack on the U.S. by Russia and full retaliation against the Soviet Union would be necessary.
During and preceding the president's announcement, the nation's military was active, quickly preparing for probable nuclear war against Russia. Although most of the men working on the project were unaware of their role in what would later make history, the installation of the first Minuteman ICBM was started in the early morning hours of Oct. 21, 1962.
Only a short five days later, that same missile, placed in Malmstrom Air Force Base's A-06 Launch Facility, became the first Minuteman ICBM put on strategic alert status - ready and able to be launched. The placement of this missile was referred to by Kennedy as his "Ace in the Hole."
The placement of the nation's "Ace in the Hole" was followed shortly with the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Only two days following the achievement of its operational status, the Soviet government sent a message from Moscow promising to dismantle the offensive weapons and return them to the Soviet Union.
Malmstrom commemorated the placement of the nation's first ICBM on alert status during a three-day 50th Anniversary celebration, which included tours of the base, dinners and socials with key speakers and a ceremony at A-06.
"Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Minuteman is a significant emotional event for most of us," said Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, 20th Air Force commander. "... Remembering where we came from and the history that has allowed us to evolve to where we are today is significant in that our nuclear deterrent was still relevant but in a different strategic context."
The highlight of the celebration was a ceremony held Oct. 13 at A-06 to recognize a weapon system that has provided the U.S. with a strategic upper hand as well as those who have operated, maintained and secured the system over the past 50 years.
"An event like today does not happen without a lot of people doing a lot of work," said Col. H.B. Brual, 341st Missile Wing commander, recognizing the nine counties throughout Montana that house the missile complex, as well as the land owners where A-06 resides.
"I'd like to thank all of the Airmen, over the last 50 years, who have operated, maintained and secured this awesome weapon system," Brual said. "Many of you in this crowd today established a legacy for which our Airmen today hope to follow. You established precision, dedication and focus to such an important mission."
Brual was followed by retired Col. Charles Simpson, who was a young lieutenant working as a missile maintenance officer during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He shared his experiences while the nation was on the brink of a nuclear war in 1962.
"We were in peacetime one day and almost at war just a few days later," he said. "Many of us who were active duty then talk about it being the scariest time of our lives. It was a tough time for us, but I'm happy to be here to commemorate it."
While the purpose of the event was to mark an historic event, Maj. Gen. Everett Thomas, Air Force Global Strike Command vice commander, spoke of what makes the Minuteman missiles essential to the nation's security today.
"We've had a weapon system to give us the three attributes we think that's needed for stability," he said. "It's lethal, it's responsive and it's credible. Those things give us stabilization with our allies and our friends around the world, and it gives our adversaries pause. It's the culture of this business that will keep us as the 'deter and assure' MAJCOM."
Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, closed the remarks by the official party, mentioning the fact that without support from surrounding communities, the mission of the 341st MW wouldn't be possible.
"We talk about the national security the wing provides, but you (the communities) have been providing an environment for national security for well over 50 years," the general said. "You represent the support of the American people."
Along with the community he stressed the importance of the Airmen who are responsible for the success of the mission.
"It's never about the hardware, it's about the people," he said.
The three-day anniversary celebration concluded with an Association of Air Force Missileers banquet Oct. 13, where Kehler was the keynote speaker.
"Strategic deterrence and assurance remain relevant concepts today," he said. "... Deterrence is still about influencing an actor's decisions. It is still about a solid policy foundation. It is still about credibility in our deterrent."