Thursday, August 22, 2013

Titan II - part 2 of 3

The Titan II was an outstanding space launcher and ballistic missile.  How does one run such a complex device and its silo full of support equipment? Very carefully. 

Training for the Titan II ICBM Combat Crew force was a long task.  We headed first to Sheppard AFB in Texas for technical training.  We learned missile systems, electronics, propulsion, and such mundane things as the care and feeding of air conditioners and diesel generators.   

At Vandenberg AFB, for the second half of training,, the enlisted troops were split into two tracks depending on specialty, while the officers trained for our initial role of Deputy Commander.  We had a lot to learn, from Emergency War Orders (EWO) training, to thick books full of checklists (ANY deviation from the checklist was, in the SAC world, a career-limiting move), to sessions in a trainer simulating almost any emergency one could dream up. 

We also had a very somber lesson about what it was we were going to do.  Every crewmember had to sign a statement saying that he or she (Titan II crews were fully sex-integrated by then) could employ nuclear weapons if the President so ordered.  Before signing it, we watched films on the effects of nuclear weapons, from the destruction of houses built near American nuclear test sites to graphic footage of the casualties of nuclear warfare in Japan.  I watched, thought, said a prayer for guidance, and signed the form.

The Titan II ICBMs were deployed the Strategic Air Command in wings of 18 missiles each, with each wing divided into two squadrons.  The 308th SMW was based at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas .and was activated 29 November 1961.  When I joined the 308th, it was under 8th Air Force, an affiliation I wore with pride given what the Mighty 8th had done in World War II.

I had the honor of serving in the 373rd Strategic Missile Squadron.  The 373rd was famous among missile squadrons mainly for the “haunted missile site.” That site was 373 SMS Complex 4, or “three-four” for short.  Three-four was near Searcy, Arkansas, a town I don’t recall ever actually seeing.  On 9 August 1965, when 373-4 was undergoing maintenance work (no missile was present), a welder cut a high-pressure hydraulic line with his torch.  The resulting flash fire killed 53 civilian workers.  After an investigation was completed and new safety rules imposed, the missile site was repaired and returned to duty.

A few odd occurrences, naturally magnified in the telling over the years, seemed to cement the site’s reputation.  “A guy found all his tools put back in his toolbox when he was the only person on that level of the silo.”  “You can hear footsteps on Level 3.”  “A security policeman once shot at a glowing figure in the crow’s nest.”  (The crow’s nest was a little platform, mounted on a high pole, for weather instruments.)  “Stanford Research Institute once investigated and found there were nine different entities out here.”

All these stories turned out to be imaginary or highly exaggerated.  The author must report, with regret, that his year spent as one of the crews assigned to this site produced no sightings, or sounds, or anything else out of the ordinary.  An enlisted crewmember with artistic talent, though, rose to the occasion when it was decided that blast doors leading from the entry stairwell/elevator shaft into the Launch Control Center could be painted, analogous to the way nose art is painted on aircraft.  A very good rendering of a haunted house with a missile protruding from its roof was painted on the blast door.  Presumably, it is there still.

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