The 150 nuclear-tipped Minuteman ICBMs buried in the prairie around Minot Air Force Base, ND, remain as much on alert today as during the Cold War. And B-52s still rumble down the concrete runway of the former Strategic Air Command stronghold in America's midland. In addition to Minuteman ICBMs, Minot AFB hosted another type of strategic missile, once the assigned B-52H bombers were modified to carry Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs). Since President George H. Bush ended nuclear alerts, emphasis at the northern tier base has changed.
In the early 1950s, as the Cold War was warming up, military leaders feared a possible threat of northern attack of the North America by enemy bombers. Air Force Leaders began looking for possible sites for air bases in the northern United States. The city of Minot sold the Air Force on becoming a site for a new base in 1954. The following year Minot businessmen and citizens donated approximately $50,000 to buy the first portions of land for the base. The ground breaking took place July 12, 1955, and construction started shortly after.
The base started out as a Air Defense Command (ADC) Base and the first unit was the 32d Fighter Group, activated on February 7, 1957. The Air Force took up occupancy eight days later on February 15. There was a small ceremony in front of base Ops when the Army Corp. of Engineers officer turned over the key to the base to the first base commander Major Joe E. Roberts. Personnel celebrated the first church service in July 1958, and the Base Exchange opened in September 1958.
In 1958 Air Defense Command established a Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) sector at Minot AFB. Construction of a huge, windowless blast-resistant concrete building started in July. IBM engineers installed two gargantuan 275-ton computers in the building. Activated in June 1961, the SAGE facility processed air surveillance information and sent data to Air Defense Command units. As Minot's mission changed, the SAGE center was deactivated in May 1963 and eventually housed numerous base agencies. Today is known as the Professional Results In Daily Endeavors (PRIDE) Building.
In 1961, the Air Force selected the land around Minot for a new Minuteman I Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) complex. Minot became a Strategic Air Command base on July 1, 1962, pending the imminent activation of Minuteman I-B missile launchers.
The Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Construction Office (CEBMCO) oversaw the construction of the 150 silos and 10 launch complexes spread over a 12,000-square mile area. The prime contractor was the Peter Kiewit Sons' Company, which received the contract on December 22, 1961, with a bid of $67.8 million. Field construction began on the missile complex in January 1962. At the peak of construction, Kiewit brought in 6,000 men with 1,100 vehicles and 115 cranes to ensure on-time completion of the contract. Relations between management and this work force were amicable as there were only two work stoppages that cost 58 man-days lost.
To manage the project, CEMBCO used a "critical path" method, which is essentially a daily charting of progress geared to project future needs. However, despite improved management techniques, CEMBCO and the contractors faced challenges from the severe weather and logistics support for the remote locations. Recordbreaking spring rains turned roads and work sites into quagmires, making excavation and transport dangerous. Severe winter cold with temperatures as low as -35 "F tested worker endurance. In the autumn, dust storms made travel hazardous. Despite these challenges, Peter Kiewit Sons' Company used accelerated construction procedures and completed the project 51 days ahead of schedule. Two workers died in construction-related incidents and there were 36 disabling injuries. Four private citizens died in various traffic accidents with project construction vehicles.
SAC activated the 455th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW) in November 1962, and in less than a year, on September 9, 1963, the first Minuteman I Missile arrived from Hill AFB, Utah. It was placed in Launch Facility A-02, September 9, 1963. Within a short 28 months, in April 1964, the 455th became combat ready. The amber waves of grain over the North Dakota plains were implanted with a combat ready ICBM system born of the latest American technology. To preserve the continuity of units with distinguished histories, on June 25, 1968, the 455th Strategic Missile Wing was redesignated as the 91st Strategic Missile Wing. The 91st had organizational roots dating from World War II and had gained recent fame as a B-52 wing operating over Vietnam.
Following the 1980 Iran hostage crisis, SAC tasked the former 57th Air Division to organize the Strategic Projection Force. The 57th AD became the host unit, providing logistical, security, administrative and other support services to the 5th BMW, 91st SMW and tenant organizations.
In the early 1990s the base prepared for change as the Air Force directed reorganization. Here, the 5th Bomb Wing assumed host base responsibilities.
In 1988, the Air Force selected Minot AFB for the Commander-in-Chief's Installation Excellence Award. This presidential award recognizes those military installations that combine mission excellence with the concern for people to produce working and living conditions truly above other installations.
Ten miles of divided highway separate Minot, the base, from Minot, the town, population 37,000. The community is a winter wheat center claiming to be the smallest town in the country with a paid symphony orchestra. It also has a performing theater, opera company, art gallery and four-year Minot State University. Randy Burckhard, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, said the base contributes some $227 million to the town's economy - second only to agriculture.
5th Bomb Wing
91st Space Wing
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list