The struggles brought on by COVID-19 initiated the change in creating a new deployment construct. Since March 2020, the 91st Missile Wing turned to a squadron-centric deployment model that meets operational requirements but also provides more predictability for their Airmen in both professional and personal capacities. As with implementing any new system, overcoming challenges poses a hurdle but not a barrier.
The new, three-week, rotational deployment model puts the Missile Alert Facility Team of Facility Managers, Chefs, Defenders, and Operators in the field (away from home) for a week at a time, followed by a reset at home station, then a week of preparing before the cycle repeats.
The deployment model used before presented one schedule for the missileers and another for the rest of the supporting teams. The Missileers’ schedule also known as ATO (Alert,, Travel, Off day) was a three day cycle. Defenders, Facility Managers and Chefs spent four or five days out in the field and then came home for a week, but also had to fit in two to three days of training during that same week at home.
“The challenge with the ATO model is that it lacked stability, and it lacked predictability for our operators,” said Col. Kristen Nemish, 91st Operations Group commander.
The new model of scheduling allows Airmen to see their schedule in advance, giving them more confidence when they make plans, schedule medical or personal appointments or request leave.
“The old [ATO] was unpredictable. This one is predictable because you know when you're off, you know when you have training and you know when you're on alert. You can plan the next six months based on this new construct,” said Captain Shaday Mitchell, missile combat crew commander and instructor. “There are mixed views on it, especially depending on your dynamics.”
More time off also means more time on and, though most people like this idea, it can be hard for people with families and pets. Being away from family and having one parent take over or having to get childcare for a whole week can be a challenge. However, Minot Air Force Base has childcare options which are helpful for those families. One such program, called Missile Kids, brings in someone from the community to take care of kids while the Airman deploys to the missile alert facility. This program brings the community together and allows people who trip out on alert together to have an added sense of comfort while away from home.
“It's a lot easier on the family because they know if I'm going to be home for events and other stuff,” said Tech Sgt. Shane Wilson, senior facility manager.
The predictability extends to those outside of the Launch Control Center as well. Now each missile squadron is paired up with a security forces squadron, encouraging the added benefit of on-the-job comradery with those outside of their own career field. It also allows any problem to get solved faster, at a lower level.
The previous deployment model seemed to always have last minute changes. Now that those issues have been addressed and fixed, it makes for a better security forces team.
“A benefit that we didn’t expect from the new construct was that we were going to get so much synergy between missile squadrons, chefs, and defenders,” said Nemish.”Problems get solved at the squadron commander level. Why? Because the operations and security forces squadron commanders deploy their teams together every three weeks. My commanders have been paired with the same security forces commander since they took the flag.”
Finally, with a more predictable field schedule, the new deployment model makes training more flexible.
“They have the ability to schedule more training and get you spun up a little bit faster, “said Wilson. “It works really well for us training new facility managers because we have a whole week with them in the field as opposed to before we had to pull back to backs to get them certified.”
On the operations side of the house, the impacts resonate as well.
“Under the old construct you had to figure out how to fit training into the ATO schedule. So sometimes your day off was actually a training day,” said Nemish.” Now we do all our training as a squadron on a rotational basis that is predictable and we have more flexibility to add additional training if we have an operational need to.”
Squadron deployment has been in place for over a year now and has proven itself to be an upgrade from the previous models in many ways. It allows for more organized predictable scheduling, training and time off. There are always areas to improve, but the pros provide a variety of benefits to the entire 91 Missile Wing.