F. E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE – An operational test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is a sight to see. The ground rumbles as the missile roars upward and lights up the night sky. After a minute or so, the night goes quiet again and the MMIII missile travels thousands of miles to its destination.
For the bystanders watching the launch, the show may only last a couple of minutes, but for 20th Air Force Airmen, launch night is the culmination of months of preparation and hard work, from security forces defenders, maintainers and operators, to contractors, Guardians and other support personnel. The MMIII test launch mission, the primary responsibility of the 576th Flight Test Squadron, headquartered at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, is a mission that requires precision, excellence and teamwork.
“We truly have a wealth of talent, expertise, and competency within our squadron,” said Col. Omar Colbert, 576 FLTS commander. “Our members are capable of resolving any technical issue and devising some of the most creative solutions you’ll ever see, which have enabled an over 50-year-old ICBM to remain confidently on alert.”
For the test launch last night, referred to as Glory Trip 237, Airmen from different career fields came together to ensure mission success. An immense amount of planning and fine tuning the smallest details goes into an operational test launch.
“From the moment the sortie [missile] is selected by Air Force Global Strike Command, the 576 FLTS engages the whole operational test launch team to tackle the arduous task of preparing the ICBM for launch,” said Lt. Col. Janet Dewese, 576 FLTS director of operations. “The defenders, maintainers, and operators at the operational missile wing work together to disassemble and ship the components for launch. Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center personnel and contractor partners analyze missile component history and condition while aiding the shipment process. Finally, maintainers and operators at the 576 FLTS with the help of missile wing task force members, reassemble the ICBM and install the Department of Energy test reentry vehicle to posture the missile for alert. Teamwork is what gets this mission done; the support, commitment, and outstanding professionalism of each of these mission partners is critical to mission success.”
Capt. Tarina Crook, missile combat crew commander at the 741st Missile Squadron, Minot AFB, North Dakota, is one of the missileers who was selected for GT237.
“I definitely had the opportunity to experience and grow from the enormous amount of teamwork between the missileers, maintainers, and other personnel while at Vandenberg AFB,” Crook said. “A big part of making this teamwork successful is simply taking the time to learn what other parts of the team have to do to contribute to the mission. Realizing that everyone plays an essential role, learning that role, and respecting it is the difference between having a vision and actually executing it.”
1st Lt. Haylee Sauceda, mission lead commander, 10th Missile Squadron, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, was also part of the launch and was grateful to get a closer look at some of the maintenance operations she doesn’t get to see first-hand.
“Typically, the relationship between maintainers and operators is through the phone,” Sauceda said. “It was great to be able to go out to site and actually watch them do their thing.”
Diversity and inclusion is an important priority for the Air Force, AFGSC and 20 AF. A diverse and inclusive environment ensures that not only the mission is accomplished, but a high degree of excellence is reached as well.
“Our squadron succeeds in mission execution because we do such a phenomenal job of including our entire team, as well as mission partners, in game planning and execution,” Colbert said. “I often refer to our active duty, Reserve, civilians, and contractors simply as ‘Airmen’, so when we roll up our sleeves to attack a problem, we can bring the entire weight of our in house team, the Minuteman III System Program Office, Air Force Global Strike Command, and Headquarters 20 AF, to bear and we always come up with solutions together. I don’t think we could ever complete an ICBM test event successfully and on time without the efforts of our entire team, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
A diverse and inclusive environment fosters teamwork and innovation, and with a mission as important as ensuring the Nation’s most responsive leg of the nuclear triad remains ready and lethal, failure is not an option.
“When Airmen perceive they’re not a part of the team, when they clearly see they are not being included on key projects and social outings, when other Airmen use inappropriate or derogatory language and no one corrects them, and when they feel their opinion and perspectives are often discounted, squadron members may show up for work, but they won’t effectively complete their missions with initiative and innovation as we desire and expect them to,” Colbert said. “Optimizing the work environment and pool of diversity allows for the development of a greater wealth of ideas and talent which can be applied to our ICBM test mission and significantly enhance our mission readiness.”
“The 10th Missile Squadron is the most diverse organization I’ve ever been a part of, having grown up and attended school in largely homogenous areas,” Sauceda said. “Mere exposure to a diverse group of others has helped me improve my leadership skills and perspective on life. But it’s not enough to have people around who look and think differently than each other. We need to pay attention to who is making decisions for our force, and how those decisions affect all of their people.”
Although the Air Force has made great strides toward inclusivity, more works remains to be done. Recognizing how diversity positive affects the mission is vital and a great step in making positive and lasting change.
“Diversity is integral and fundamental to our daily mission,” said 1st Lt. Shane Knowles, deputy combat missile crew commander, 740th Missile Squadron, Malmstrom AFB, and one of the six operators selected for GT237. “Our operations require a vast number of personnel to come together for our common goal. In that pursuit, individuals from all walks of life, backgrounds, and perspectives are serving our country; diversity in all aspects will only help our force grown stronger and adequately represent the country we serve.”