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The Minuteman Missile Combat Crew Member

For those of us who performed missile alert duty, we usually used the term "we pulled alert."  The term goes back to the aircraft days, some people also said "se stood alert" or "we sat alert" - the second was probably more appropriate for Minuteman Missileers, since we did sit a lot.  But the most common phrase was "I just pulled alert."  When Minuteman started, it was a big change from the earlier missile systems.  The missiles weren't close by - the crews rarely saw a missal silo.  The crew was small - no enlisted  members, no highly trained missile mechanical or electronic technicians, just two officers trained in the general operation of a new missile system.   Missile launch officers were trained for several weeks, first at Chanute AFB, Illinois and then at Vandenberg AFB, California, before that final dose of local training at the new home wing.  During the design of Minuteman, someone decided that two officers could handle all the duties of a single missile combat crew, so launch control centers were designed with two crew positions.  There had to be two - nuclear safety, two man and two officer policies would not allow a single individual, or even a single officer, to perform the duty, so the two officer Minuteman Missile Combat Crew was born - a Missile Combat Crew Commander and a Deputy Missile Combat Crew Commander.   In the early days, it wasn't a two person crew, it was a two man crew..  There were very few women in the Air Force and none in any operations or maintenance area.  That would not change for many years.

The first crews on alert in Minuteman were a result of the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.  The first Minuteman wing, the 341st Strategic Missile Wing at Malmstrom, was in the process of preparing for its first alerts later in 63 when the Cuban Crisis resulted in a sudden acceleration of that effort.  The early crew force was an unusual mix of fairly senior pilots, navigators and others displaced by the phaseout of some of the early bombers and tankers, like B-47s  and KC-97s, as well as some who had volunteered for the new Minuteman Education Program, an opportunity to earn a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering while serving as a crew member.  The Strategic Air Command missile force had grown significantly in the last two years and was still growing - by 1962, all of the Atlas and Titan I units were manned, and Titan II and Minuteman was just coming on the scene.  There were captains, majors and lieutenant colonels being trained as crew commanders, with some captains serving as deputies until commander slots opened.     As the second, third, fourth and fifth Minuteman wings became operational, the two man crew model remained the standard. with crews pulling 24 hour alerts, usually 6 to 8 per month, with one of the two crew members allowed to "rest" in the launch control center on the bunk provided.  The term "sleep" was avoided.  

In the summer of 1965, as people were arriving for duty with the sixth and last wing, the 321st SMW at Grand Forks, the Air Force announced that, due to nuclear safety concerns, one crew member would no longer be allowed to "rest" in the certain Minuteman configurations - the new Minuteman II Sylvania system at Grand Forms being one of them.    The solution was a new crew model, the three man crew, with a missile combat crew commander (MCCC), deputy missile combat crew commander (DMCCC) and a new position, the alternate missile combat crew commander (AMCCC).  The  AMCCC would be trained in both positions, and would spend part of each alert at each console.  One of the three crew members could spend time in one of the bedrooms topside sleeping.  Wings tried a variety of schedules - at Grand Forks the most common was a 24 hour alert with 2-2-2-6-6-6  shifts, giving each crew member two rest periods.   With three man crews, most of the crew commanders at Grand Forks were majors and lieutenant colonels, with a couple of very senior captains who made the cut .  All of the AMCCCs were captains, and the DMCCCs were a mix of captains and lieutenants.  Grand Forks had gotten a number of officers form Atlas and Titan I when those units closed.

After a couple of years in the three man crew force model, SAC went to a new two man crew force model.  Crews still could not sleep or rest below ground, so two crews shared 36 to 48 hour alert tours, with one crew below ground and one resting topside.  The most common schedule at Grand Forks was the 40 hour tour.  A crew for each site would leave the base after 0830 predeparture and relieve the crew on duty,  and that crew would come home.  That afternoon, a second predeparture would be held at 1530 and 15 more crew head to the sites.   The morning crew would go into rest status for eight hours.  Each crew would spend 24 hours in the launch control center and 16 in the bedroom on rest status.  When the morning crew finished the third alert shift, the crew would depart for the base, usually around 02-0300.  It was not an ideal time to drive across North Dakota in the winter, and it left only one crew on site for 16 hours that day, but it solved the rest/sleep problem.  This basic model, with adjustments on occasion to the timing and length of tour, continued until the Rivet Save modification in 1978 allowed the nuclear safety experts to decide to authorize rest/sleep below ground.  The schedule returned to the original 24 hour alert.

Since that time, the most significant change was the entry of women into the Minuteman crew force in the 1988.  Women had been serving on Titan II crews earlier.   There have been some experiments with alert periods, keeping crews on site longer than 24 hours  several times, most recently during the Covid 19 Pandemic.  there have also been changes to the way the operations staff interacts with the crew force.  During several periods over the last 35 years or so, staff members have been required to maintain combat ready status and to perform alert.  



Mailing address:

P.O. Box 1767

Monument, CO 80132


The Association of Air Force Missileers

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