90 @ Nite: Missileers
By Airman 1st Class Brandon Valle, 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 25, 2015
F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --
Editor's note: This article is part of a weeklong series showcasing the Airmen who work night shifts.
The 90th Operations Group controls 150 Minuteman III ICBMs, protecting America through nuclear deterrence. The missileers of the group's 319th, 320th, and the 321st Missile Squadrons ensure that mission is accomplished 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
Inside the launch control center, a missileer's only goal is to remain focused and alert. Under the artificial light inside the suspended control capsule, the time of day outside becomes unimportant as the missileers focus on maintaining their readiness.
Missileers are one of several career fields on base who work long hours as part of the Wing's mission to provide around the clock deterrence. For these Airmen, a normal work cycle may begin about the same time as other Airmen, but then their schedules will become very different.
"Typically, we arrive at the Operations Group around 7 a.m. to go through our morning procedures and briefings to figure out what will be going on in the field while we pull alert," said 1st Lt. Jonathon Powell, 320th MS missile combat crew member.
Missile combat crews consist of a crew commander and a deputy commander who travel out to a missile alert facility and man the launch control center. After getting the all clear, crews begin their drives to their assigned MAF, which can take from 30 minutes to more than an hour and a half. Once they arrive at their duty location, there are specific procedures to replace the missileers currently in the LCC.
"For the 320th Missile Squadron, it usually takes between one and two hours to reach the MAF, and another hour performing our change-over before we are in command of the capsule," said Maj. Tom Perry, 320th MS assistant operations officer.
After assuming command from the leaving crew, the missileers take control of the consoles, running through checklists to ensure everything is working properly. Once complete, the crews must establish a sleeping schedule around their other requirements.
"Each crew is different," Powell said. "Each person has his or her preference for the schedule."
The work schedules become a day and night shift, based on time allotments, which allows one missileer to rest and the other to maintain the alert.
"The main difference between day shifts and night shifts is the sleeping times," Powell said. "Working the day shift gives you a relatively normal sleep schedule, where you work during the day time and have time during the night to sleep. Night shifts give you a strange sleep schedule where you might get to sleep from noon to six then be awake all night before getting more time to sleep."
Each crew works together to figure out a schedule. Both shifts require certain tasks and responsibilities to be completed. During the day, missileers are tasked with managing what is going on in the field, such as monitoring maintenance on sites. As the day winds down, the missileer working the night shift has more time to perform checks on the equipment.
"Working at night tends to be much quieter than working during the day," Perry said. "There is more time to do things like perform cross-checks with the other MAFs and communication checks to make sure everything is working properly."
When a missileer is not on shift, they are given a rest cycle, Powell said. Each alert is different, with some rest cycles as low as 4 hours and some allowing up to 10 hours.
"When I am the crew commander, I try to get us good chunks of time for ourselves," Perry said. "I strive for at least 6 hours breaks for each of us, as long as our schedule allows for it."
Each break is given to the missileer as free time, Powell said.
"We are free to do whatever we need to during our break, whether that's to sleep or get other work done," he said.
When he is taking classes for professional military education or to complete an advanced academic degree, Powell said he prefers the night shift because there are fewer distractions.
"For the most, I won't be interrupted during the night when I am trying to study or complete my homework," he said. "Day shifts tend to have times where we have to pay attention and stay focused on the mission, whereas nights have longer chunks of time to work."
Both Powell and Perry agreed that the night shift has its challenges with remaining awake and alert. Though it may seem difficult, each missileer is tasked with finding the things that help them stay awake.
"With nuclear operations, the same rules apply regardless of the time of day," Powell said. "Missileers must remain alert and attentive when on shift. It could be more difficult at times, but we find a way to press on."
On any given night, 30 missileers pull alerts at the 15 LCCs assigned to the 90th MW. Their focus and dedication at the early hours of the morning ensure that the wing accomplishes its goal to "defend America with the world's premier, combat-ready ICBM force."