"" Writer's Wanderings: Road Trip 2015 - Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Road Trip 2015 - Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

If you live long enough you become a part of history. The Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the end of the Berlin Wall are all a part of my life history. Yes, I went through those atomic bomb drills where we had to scramble under our school desks when we heard the air raid siren sound and hide our eyes from what we were told would be a blinding blast of light. (Those drills have now turned into tornado drills.) No one mentioned that if the bomb did go off there probably wouldn't be any of us left to worry about our sight.

The Cold War was defined as an ideological, economic, and political struggle between the United States and at that time, the U.S.S.R. (the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). I'd rather call it like it was/is: an old fashioned line drawn, cross it and you're dead. It was and continues to be a stand off of what is called deterrence strategy: If you bomb us, we'll bomb you and our bombs are bigger.

The Minuteman missile designed back in the 1950s was an intercontinental ballistic missile and part of our air, land and sea based nuclear capability. The Minuteman I and II missiles were to be deployed from underground silos, launched by crews who were stationed miles away. These sites are no longer active but there continues to be others that are.

In 1999 Congress established two 1960s missile sites that were to be national historic sites. They include Delta-09, a missile silo, and Delta-01, a launch control facility. The information center for the historical site is actually a short distance away from the launch control facility and about a twenty minute ride or so from the missile silo, Delta-09. We started there.

Bob's research told him that we needed to get there early to get tickets. They only allow six people on the tour at a time. The space inside the launch control facility can only hold that many. Once we had the tickets (free), we spent some time viewing the video and looking at the temporary information displays. Sometime soon all the papered walls with the information will become permanent displays. Then we got in the car and back on I-90 to the next exit to tour the launch control facility.

We waited with several others outside a fenced in area that had all sorts of warnings to trespassers. While we waited, I noticed a coded message and a challenge to decipher it. It wasn't hard. I imagine our codes are much more intricate than that. I'd tell you what it was but then. . .

One of two key holes.
Our park ranger guide was excellent, very informative and really knew her stuff. She's also learning some as she goes because there are often men who served at the sites coming to revisit them with their families. Lots of stories to share.

Basically, the launch control site had about a dozen men at the site at a time. Several were on security detail, two were missileers who spent their time in the capsule at the controls, and then of course a cook. They were deployed from an Air Force base about an hour away. The missileers would spend 24 hour shifts in the underground capsule that had all the controls and were prepared to each use a key--a double safety system to deploy a missile should the command come. The keyholes were about twelve feet apart so it would take both of them turning the keys at the same time for launch.

A little missile humor.
The security men were there to monitor the alarms and check on breaches of the silo areas. Unfortunately in the early days, the settings were so delicate that squirrels and rabbits would set the alarms off and the men would be out, often in the weather, finding nothing wrong. This was not lost on the local youth who, for a fun time, would toss a rabbit over the fence to trigger the alarm. Eventually a better security system was implemented and save a lot of false alarms.

We explored the upper levels of the control center that had living quarters, a lounge, a kitchen, and a security office with monitors. An elevator took us below ground to the launch control center which is like a large capsule suspended inside a cement cavern. It has its own life support and was equipped for seven days of survival but as we all agreed if you had to launch a nuclear weapon there probably wouldn't be much reason to want to survive. Not much would be left of our world.

Delta-09 silo.
Lots of information can be found at the NPS site if you want to learn more. After our foray into the Badlands and Wall Drug, we went to the actual silo. On a sign at the fence entrance is the number you can dial for an audio tour. Bob dialed in and walked around the fenced in area while I sat in the shade. The sun was blazing and I'd already seen the missile in the silo. He was thrilled though at all the other information he gleaned.

Probably the most impacting information I received that day though came when our ranger guide showed a map of the area where Hiroshima is in Japan. There was a small black dot ringed by a red circle that turned pink as it radiated out. It indicated the whole area on the map where the atomic bomb had wiped out the city. She explained the power of the Minuteman II missiles but it didn't make sense until she flipped her map over and showed the illustration of what a Minuteman would have done. The area on the map was at least 10X bigger.

She went on to explain that we now have Minuteman III missiles with even more fire power. I shivered as I thought, "And we are not the only ones on this earth with that capability." I hate scary thoughts.

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