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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Deterrence keeps secluded Minuteman crew focused

by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee
Air Force Print News

2/9/2007 - F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. (AFNEWS)  -- After more than a hour's drive from civilization, down sometimes treacherous country dirt roads, 1st Lt. Matthew Bejcek still has about 90 minutes of security checks to pass through before he can start his job as a caretaker of this nation's single biggest deterrent to terrorism.

There is a reason for the lieutenant's long trek to work. As a deputy combat crew member for the 319th Missile Squadron, he and his crew partner are responsible for monitoring multiple Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launch facilities from his position in a missile alert facility.

Working more than 60 feet underground, his job is a lot more difficult than monitoring a mythical big red button. There are numerous checklists to go through during his shift and it is rare that he doesn't have a headset to his ear coordinating actions throughout the missile field.

The job can be quite hectic and Lieutenant Bejcek said that it is made easier by the close bond he has with his crew partner. They have been working together since November.

"It is a very unique position down here," he said. "From the beginning, we just seemed to click. There are times that we get into a rhythm, and just a couple of words are needed for him to know what is going on."

The teamwork between the crew members is necessary because of the cramped work area. Space only allows for two chairs, a few monitors, bookshelves and a twin sized bunk.

If the situation calls for the missiles to be launched, it is a lot more to the process than pushing a red button. The crew will have to work together through numerous checklists and turn their individual keys simultaneously. It is an action that Lieutenant Bejcek said he hopes never to have to do, but he comes to work everyday ready to carry out the orders of his superiors.

The crew members are not left underground by themselves. Their work area, nicknamed the capsule due to its resemblance to a pill capsule, is only one part of the missile alert facility. Above ground is a compound that houses a support staff and a robust security forces unit that is trained to defend the compound and the others like it spread across the Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska countryside.

Tech. Sgt. Paul Bobenmoyer is a facility manager of one of the missile alert facilities. The job is a special duty assignment for him and he has found it to be a lot different than his duties as a C-130 Hercules jet propulsion mechanic. As a facility manager he has a wide array of duties across the compound and has a part to play in nearly every facet of the mission carried out there.

"You dabble in everything as a facility manager," he said. "You have to have basic knowledge about the systems in case something goes wrong so you can fix it or call in the proper assistance."

The sergeant feels that it is very important to keep the morale up of everybody assigned to the compound. One of the most important aspects of that is to ensure everybody has a hot meal.

Each facility has its own kitchen, run by services personnel. Senior Airman Ivan Figueroa-Jacinto enjoys his duties as a lead cook. It has been a great training opportunity for him because he said it is like running his own dining hall, right down to managing a storeroom, doing paperwork, and handling the cooking and cleaning of the kitchen.

"It is some long hours and hard work but you get to meet a lot of great people," he said. "It makes me feel good that I play such a large part in this base's mission."

Airman Figueroa-Jacinto jokes that he is the most popular person at the missile alert facility. He said he tries hard to make his food great and he can see the morale in the facility rise when everybody has had a good meal.

Adverse weather is common in this part of the country and he has to plan for the possibility that the crew and support personnel may be stranded at the facility for a few days if the roads are blocked by heavy snow. He is proactive and orders extra food when a storm is forecasted for the area.

People at the facility have to learn to self-pace themselves due to the compound's secluded location, said Sergeant Bobenmoyer.

"You've got to have the integrity to know that even though no one is watching, you still have to do the job right regardless," he said.

There is extremely tight security at the compound and there are no shortcuts taken by anyone involved at any time. The crew members have to pass through numerous levels of security before they arrive at their positions in the capsule. All of the precautions are in place for a reason, Sergeant Bobenmoyer said.

"They are biggest deterrent in the world," he said. "Nothing is more powerful than what the capsule crew is doing from day-to day."

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