The Association of Air Force Missileers (AAFM)
AAFM was born during a reunion for members of the 3901st Strategic Missile Evaluation Squadron (SMES) in Las Vegas, in 1991. During that meeting in the heat of July desert (Why do people plan reunions in Las Vegas in July?), a number of us, both officer and enlisted, started talking about an organization for Air Force Missileers. Over the years, there had been a number of short lived groups started at several of the missile bases, none of which lasted more than a couple of years. The fliers had an organization, the Daedalians, founded early in the 1900s by World War I aviators, with a presence on almost every Air Force base. We decided that it was time for the Missileers to have a similar organization. Over the next several months, we floated ideas back and forth, mostly by mail, since email was new and developing at that time. By late 1992, we had put together a basic plan, with by-laws, a mission statement and a founding Board of Directors. I volunteered to be the “staff” for the organization, a job I held for the first 25 years of our existence.
A tax-exempt, non-profit, Internal Revenue Service 501c(3) entity, incorporated in Colorado was formed. As of 1 January 1993, AAFM was an operating organization, with both federal and state approval. using Christmas card lists from the founding board members and others involved in the founding process, within a very few months, AAFM had over 500 members. Over the next couple of years, we spread the word through articles in Air Force Times, Air Force Magazine, the Air Force Sergeants Association, Noncommissioned Officers Association, base newspapers and other ways, and the membership grew to over 2,000. Ultimately, AAFN attracted over 4,000 members, and maintained a constant rate of about 2,000 paid up, active members. The number hasn’t changed over recent years, but the names have, as some members decide not to continue membership, others return after long absences and we lose way too many every year as the Taps for Missileers list grows.
A study in the March 2017 newsletter that concluded there have been 79,717 Air Force Missileers who have served from the 1940s to present time. That means that AAFM has only reached a small fraction of the total population, and it also explains that even today, we get calls and emails from people who say, “I just heard about your organization.” In 1993, we set the dues at $20 per year, $50 for three years and $250 for lifetime membership. We did some analysis and changed the lifetime cost to $300 a couple of years later, but annual and three year dues have remained unchanged since we began. Many years ago, we added an Active Duty Enlisted/Student rate of $5 per year or $14 for three years, and then changed that a few years ago when some generous enlisted members of AAFM donated funds so we could provide free membership to active duty enlisted. When we started that program, we made the $5/$14 rate applicable to Active Duty Officers/Students. By carefully controlling costs and by having no staff costs we have managed to continue dues at the same level throughout our history. Our annual budget is small, slightly less than $50,000 per year, but we accomplish some ambitious programs with that limited amount – more about these programs later in this article. We picked “Victors in the Cold War” as our motto when we formed - it was appropriate since the Cold War had just ended, and there was no doubt that those of us who served in strategic, tactical, air defense and airlaunched missiles played a major role in that final result for the Soviet Union. We started strong in the early days of the Cold War when we fielded Matador, Mace, BOMARC, Snark, Thor and Jupiter, followed quickly by Atlas, Titan and Minuteman. During that same early period, many Missileers also fought the Cold War as they served in Rascal, Genie, Hound Dog, Quail and a wide variety of other airlaunched missiles. Over the years, we added ground and air launched cruise missiles, advanced cruise missiles, Peacekeeper and newer airlaunched systems. We were working on other systems to counter new Soviet missiles, when the other side finally threw in the towel, signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, and both sides began large reductions in nuclear systems. A few years ago, some of our younger members, who began service well after the Cold War ended, suggested that we needed to update our image to attract members of the current missile force. Our board looked at a lot of options, and concluded “Advocates for Missileers” was an appropriate new motto for AAFM.
We decided on a it simple logo – just use an image of the original Guided Missile Insignia and the letters AAFM. Some wanted to include more versions of the badge or at least one of the operations versions – but historically, we started with one badge and we decided that was the best way to represent all Missileers.
About two thirds of the members served in operations, the other third primarily in missile maintenance, with some members with experience in munitions, communications, research and development, test, civil engineering, security, support and some other areas. The officer/enlisted mix is about the same two to one ratio, with a few members who served in civilian government or contractor jobs related to the missile force. That same two to one ratio also applies to one other category, career versus one-tour Missileers. Some of us were surprised early in the life of AAFM to see how many Missileers joined who had only served a single four year tour, or near that, or maybe a few more years, either as officers or young enlisted members. Finally, our membership represents every single missile system that was tested, developed or deployed during the last 70 plus years. While the majority of our membership served in one or more of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programs, from Atlas to Peacekeeper, many served in tactical cruise missiles, from Matador to Ground Launched Cruise Missiles, in Thor and Jupiter, Snark, Navaho, BOMARC and some even were involved in early testing of captured German World War II V-1 and V-2 missiles. A significant number worked on airlaunched missiles, from the early Rascal and Genie, to the Hound Dog, Quail, Short Range Attack Missile, various versions of the air launched cruise missiles and all of those smaller missiles rockets carried by aircraft for air to air combat or air to ground attack. If the Air Force had a missile system, one or more of our members earned a missile badge working on it.
It took a few months to build the AAFM Board of Directors to full strength and to stabilize the format. Based on the demographics of our membership, we decided to formalize a board consisting of seven officers and five enlisted members. For a few years, we had active duty board members, but changes in the Air Force legal system resulted in a ruling that active duty members should not serve on boards, even non-profit and military related. For a number of years after that change, we maintained a roster of active duty advisors, but even that role drew questions from the legal folks, so now all of our board members are either retired or former active duty. Four directors are elected every two years, and serve six year terms.
Preserving the Heritage of Air Force Missiles and the People Involved with Them - We began our Missile Heritage Grant program our first year, and in the generosity of our membership has allowed us to provide almost $300,000 to museums for displays. A significant number of our members have worked with researchers and authors through interviews, personal stories and advice on histories of specific events and missile systems. Books, like “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser and “Titan II” by David Stumpf are only two examples of the assistance members have provided. In 2012, AAFM put together a book, “Missileers and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” that had more than 100 personal stories from Missileers and family members about experiences during that historic event. Many members have taken part in television interviews for news stories and documentaries, and several Missileers have been part of the Air Force Veterans in Blue video program. Other members have authored books on missile and Missileer history, include Matador and Mace, Thor, various bases and facilities and more. Others have written personal histories and commentaries on the missile force, the Cold War and other topics, and a number have written novels about life in missiles. Publications like a collection of Bob Wyckoff’s missile poetry, Bill McKee’s missile cartoons and Greg Ogletree’s missile badge history are part of this written history collection. AAFM maintains a list of all these publications on our web page, and occasionally has copies for sale. The largest single collection of missile and Missileer history is available to all in the AAFM Newsletter Archives
AAFM has also collected an enormous amount of data on most Air Force missile systems. This data is available to members for a small donation to cover costs of producing and mailing computer disks. Our collection includes technical orders, photos, historical documents, articles and speeches and presentations. There are seven separate collections by system or topic, along with seven collections of videos, films and television documentaries. These collections continue to grow as members provide new data on a regular basis.
AAFM has been involved in several art projects in recent years, including Darrell Anderson’s “Countdown – 5,4, 3, 2, 1,” a large glass mosaic on display at Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) headquarters, a Cuban Missile Crisis commemorative painting of A-06 at Malmstrom by Warren Neary, and two paintings by former board member, CMSgt (Ret) Joe Andrew, including “The Guardians,” which is on display at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota. AAFM was also involved with projects to get a Minuteman III static display missile for Peterson AFB, as well as a Minuteman III Post Boost Vehicle display for AFSPC headquarters. AAFM members have taken part at symposiums, spoken at gatherings and presented trophies and commemorative coins at the missile competition, from the early days when it was the Missile Combat Competition, to the Space and Missile Competition to the current Bomb and Missile Competition. The association hosted a Santa Maria Barbeque for all of the participants at the competitions at Barksdale AFB. Members have also participated at a number of commemorative events at places like Vandenberg AFB, FE Warren AFB, and Peterson AFB, for special anniversaries of the missile force, the first alert and other events. The most significant single event was part of the AAFM National Meeting at Great Falls, MT, when over 700 people participated in a special ceremony at launch facility A-06 to commemorate the first Minuteman I missile on alert, an event that occurred during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Greg Ogletree’s Missile Patch Gallery and AAFM’s online Missile Museum are part of our internet presence. Greg’s collection includes every significant official and unofficial missile patch, and our online museum is always being revised and updated to tell the story of Air Force missiles and the people involved with them. All of these programs and projects are far from static – we add new parts or new items often and advise members of availability in our quarterly AAFM Newsletter and on our web page.
Recognizing Outstanding Missileers
AAFM began participating in the missile competition the first year of our existence. This event, currently conducted annually as the Bomb and Missile Competition, involves the “best of the best” from each bomb and missile wing. Over the years, AAFM has provided commemorative coins or other commemorative items to each participant, taken part in trophy presentations, symposiums and discussion groups, met with competitors and had an AAFM display at competition headquarters. For several years, the AAFM President took part in the final score-posting ceremony, and the President, other board members and the executive director have participated in many other ways.
When the ICBM force moved to AFSPC, we began sponsorship of the General Samuel Phillips Operations Trophy and the Colonel Ed Payne Maintenance Trophy. For a number of years, the AAFM President and executive director took part in the presentation of these annual trophies at AFSPC headquarters. These trophies are now part of the Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) awards program, and are still awarded annually. For several years, we provided sponsorship for and took part in the AFGSC Outstanding Airman program, with the AAFM President presenting awards at the annual banquet at Peterson. Over the years, AAFM has also sponsored awards for Air Force Reserve Officer Training Programs, missile training programs and missile wing programs. In recent years, legal requirements for military award programs have resulted in some limits in participation by a non-official (non-military) organization like ours, but we still work with missile leadership to find ways to continue to recognize the young men and women who operate, maintain, secure and support our missile force today.
We post a “Taps for Missileers” list on our web page, updated as we hear about the death of not only AAFM members, but of any Missileer. This online list is also published in the quarterly AAFM Newsletter, to honor those Missileers who are no longer with us. We decided years ago that one way to recognize Missileers was to provide something he or she could wear to identify the fact that they earned a missile badge – we determined that the best way to do this was to make missile badge lapel pins available. AAFM makes all six versions of the badge available in small, inch and a quarter lapel pins that Missileers can display on hats, jackets or wherever they want to place them to show their missile heritage.
Keeping Missileers Informed
The most durable and permanent method we have of keeping members and others informed is our quarterly AAFM Newsletter, currently a 20 page, full color document printed and distributed at the end of each March, June, September and December. The newsletter is much more than missile history – it includes articles and stories about current and future programs, book reviews, reports of reunions, publicity for groups hoping to gather and much more. We print and mail about 1,500 copies of each edition, with over 1,000 going to members and the rest going to active duty missile units, headquarters and offices, museums and a number of other places. About 1,000 members prefer the electronic version, which saves us a substantial amount in printing and postage costs. As mentioned earlier, every issue of the newsletter is available for free download from our web page at afmissileers.org, and there is a complete index on the Newsletter Archive part of the page.
The electronic age, with the internet, took off about the same time that we started our association. We had a simple web page in the early years, and have continued to add content over the years. The page now includes sections on each of our mission elements, as well as other parts with more information about missiles and Missileers. Other parts include the Missile Patch Gallery, the Online Museum and the Donations/Store, where one can donate to AAFM programs and find access to books, prints, pins, badges, patches, data collections and much more.
We also do occasional email updates to all members who provide email access, along with a number of other Missileers who asked to be included even though they are not current AAFM members. These emails go to almost 3,000 addresses, usually monthly.
Encouraging Meetings and Reunions
The biggest single piece of this mission element is our AAFM National Meeting, conducted every two years. There are usually one or two unit reunions that are part of our National Meeting – AAFM takes care of all the preparation and gives these groups facilities and opportunities to gather and socialize. In the first 15 years or so of AAFM’s existence, we conducted local area meetings at missile bases and other locations. The demise of officer and enlisted clubs made this task more difficult, so we have had few local meetings lately, but we do conduct such meetings when possible. We have had a couple of special meetings, including one in Rapid City, SD, where more than 100 Missileers took part in a preview opening of the new Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitors Center east of Wall, SD.
Our newsletter and web page include listings of all known upcoming missile unit reunions, a list that has grown over the years. The activation of AAFM in 1993 seemed to light a fire under some Missileers and encouraged them to set up unit reunions. There are a number of former missile wings and squadrons, including the 455th/91th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW), 44 SMW, 351 SMW, 390 SMW, 556 SMS, 486th Tactical Missile Wing and many more. A lot of Missileers have put in a lot of effort over the years to organize and run these events, and AAFM members have taken part in many of them. One example is member Ken Fisher, a New Yorker who served as a young enlisted crewmember in the 551 SMS at Lincoln AFB, NE, in Atlas F. Shortly after we formed AAFM, Ken began gathering contact data on members of his squadron, which was only active for about four years. He tracked down a large percentage of former squadron members, and organized and conducted reunions for the unit, with the first being at Lincoln a couple of years after we began. There are many others like Ken who put in many hours to locate and track former unit members, and to conduct reunions every year or two. We put reports of these reunions in our newsletters, and encourage units to join us for their reunions. Organizations like the one that runs the Ronald Reagan State Minuteman Historical Site, the O-0 launch control facility near Cooperstown, ND, and the new Wyoming state missile museum, at the Q-01 Peacekeeper site north of Cheyenne, have conducted gatherings in the past or plan to in the future. AAFM took part in the opening ceremony for O-0.
Providing a Central Point of Contact for Missileers
When we started our association, there was no social media like Facebook and Twitter, so ways to keep track or find fellow Missileers was limited. We assembled a database of over 4,000 names from lists submitted by new AAFM members, in addition to the almost 4,000 who joined AAFM over the years. We only release address information from these lists to other AAFM members or to officially recognized reunion organizers and small lists to researchers and authors – no address lists are posted online or open to access. Our new web page format has a built in directory accessible to all members. We occasionally list names of Missileers in our newsletter and on our web page when a member asks us to help track down someone. This method doesn’t always succeed, but we have found some “lost” Missileers that way. Many of our members are active on Facebook pages for specific groups or missile units, and have used this service to locate fellow Missileers. AAFM provides lists to our members on request for a specific missile system or unit. We don’t track the data by time period, so we can’t give you a list of “missile maintainers at Grand Forks in 1970” but we can give you a list of every member who was a maintainer at Grand Forks. As in all other of our lists, we limit access to other members only – we do not provide address information for any sales effort or membership drive by an outside agency. Over the years, some organizations, including the Air Force Association and others, have asked us to share our member list. We have offered to take their information and include it in our publication, but we have not and will not release the addresses to any outside association or organization.