Cheering the charge: a look back on the wing’s missile competition mascot

A caricature of a cowboy watches as the 341st Strategic Missile Wing’s Missile Combat Competition team disembarks from a KC-135 Stratotanker. A 1981 group photo of team mascots at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., suggests this was the 341st SMW’s mascot in the early 1980s. (Photo courtesy of 341st MW Historian Office)

A caricature of a cowboy watches as the 341st Strategic Missile Wing’s Missile Combat Competition team disembarks from a KC-135 Stratotanker. A 1981 group photo of team mascots at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., suggests this was the 341st SMW’s mascot in the early 1980s. (Photo courtesy of 341st MW Historian Office)

The 341st Strategic Missile Wing’s mascot, the Wrangler, far right, stands with seven other Minuteman and Titan missile wing team mascots around General Bennie L. Davis, commander-in-chief of Strategic Air Command, at the 1985 SAC Missile Combat Competition at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Malmstrom Air Force Base’s team was called “The Wranglers, “The First Aces” and “The Ace in the Hole Gang” that year. The other mascots represent 321st SMW, Grand Forks AFB, N.D.; 351st SMW, Whiteman AFB, Mo.; 381st SMW, McConnell AFB, Kan.; 308th SMW, Little Rock AFB, Ark.; 44th SMW, Ellsworth AFB, S.D.; 90th SMW, F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.; and 91st SMW, Minot AFB, N.D. By 1994 the 90th Missile Wing’s mascot changed from a cavalry trooper to the Wrangler. (Photo courtesy of 341st MW Historian Office)

The 341st Strategic Missile Wing’s mascot, the Wrangler, far right, stands with seven other Minuteman and Titan missile wing team mascots around General Bennie L. Davis, commander-in-chief of Strategic Air Command, at the 1985 SAC Missile Combat Competition at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Malmstrom Air Force Base’s team was called “The Wranglers, “The First Aces” and “The Ace in the Hole Gang” that year. The other mascots represent 321st SMW, Grand Forks AFB, N.D.; 351st SMW, Whiteman AFB, Mo.; 381st SMW, McConnell AFB, Kan.; 308th SMW, Little Rock AFB, Ark.; 44th SMW, Ellsworth AFB, S.D.; 90th SMW, F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.; and 91st SMW, Minot AFB, N.D. By 1994 the 90th Missile Wing’s mascot changed from a cavalry trooper to the Wrangler. (Photo courtesy of 341st MW Historian Office)

“The Malmstrom AFB, Mont., ‘Bear’ leads the 341st SMW contingent into score posting ceremonies during Olympic Shield ’87” according to the original caption for this photograph. That year marked the 20th anniversary of Strategic Air Command’s first Missile Combat Competition. It was also the only year the name Olympic Shield was used for the competition.  (Photo courtesy of AFGSC Historian Office)

“The Malmstrom AFB, Mont., ‘Bear’ leads the 341st SMW contingent into score posting ceremonies during Olympic Shield ’87” according to the original caption for this photograph. That year marked the 20th anniversary of Strategic Air Command’s first Missile Combat Competition. It was also the only year the name Olympic Shield was used for the competition. (Photo courtesy of AFGSC Historian Office)

A 1989 group photo shows an early version of the 341st Missile Wing’s mountain man at Strategic Air Command’s Olympic Arena Missile Combat Competition, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The original caption reads: “Mascots from 1989 Olympic Arena competition include (left to right) Super Troopers, 90th Strategic Missile Wing, F.E. Warren, Wyo.; High Plains Warriors, 341st SMW, Malmstrom AFB, Mont.; Roughriders, 91st SMW, Minot AFB, N.D.; War Chiefs, 351st SMW, Whiteman AFB, Mo.; Warriors of the North, 321st SMW, Grand Forks AFB, N.D. and the Black Hills Bandits, 44th SMW, Ellsworth AFB, S.D.” (Photo courtesy of the Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum)

A 1989 group photo shows an early version of the 341st Missile Wing’s mountain man at Strategic Air Command’s Olympic Arena Missile Combat Competition, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The original caption reads: “Mascots from 1989 Olympic Arena competition include (left to right) Super Troopers, 90th Strategic Missile Wing, F.E. Warren, Wyo.; High Plains Warriors, 341st SMW, Malmstrom AFB, Mont.; Roughriders, 91st SMW, Minot AFB, N.D.; War Chiefs, 351st SMW, Whiteman AFB, Mo.; Warriors of the North, 321st SMW, Grand Forks AFB, N.D. and the Black Hills Bandits, 44th SMW, Ellsworth AFB, S.D.” (Photo courtesy of the Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum)

In 1991, the 341st Strategic Missile Wing became the first wing to win in two consecutive years the Blanchard Trophy for Best Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Wing. The wing’s mascot, known officially as the High Plains Warrior, helped bring the trophy back to Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., that year from Strategic Air Command’s Olympic Arena Missile Combat Competition at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. (Photo courtesy of 341st MW Historian Office)

In 1991, the 341st Strategic Missile Wing became the first wing to win in two consecutive years the Blanchard Trophy for Best Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Wing. The wing’s mascot, known officially as the High Plains Warrior, helped bring the trophy back to Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., that year from Strategic Air Command’s Olympic Arena Missile Combat Competition at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. (Photo courtesy of 341st MW Historian Office)

Mascots were a vexing concern to Air Force Space Command in 1994 as organizers planned the inaugural Guardian Challenge Space and Missile Competition at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Missile wings had recently been transferred to AFSPC after a single yet final Olympic Arena missile competition hosted by Air Combat Command. “The space wings don’t have mascots here, and there was some debate on whether or not missileers could keep theirs” according to the official GC newsletter that year, noting that the tradition prevailed. The missile wing mascots pictured (clockwise, from bottom left) are Whiteman AFB’s War Chief, Grand Forks’ Warrior of the North, Malmstrom AFB’s High Plains Warrior, and Minot AFB’s Teddy Roosevelt. Not shown is F.E. Warren AFB’s Wrangler. (Photo courtesy of the Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum)

Mascots were a vexing concern to Air Force Space Command in 1994 as organizers planned the inaugural Guardian Challenge Space and Missile Competition at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Missile wings had recently been transferred to AFSPC after a single yet final Olympic Arena missile competition hosted by Air Combat Command. “The space wings don’t have mascots here, and there was some debate on whether or not missileers could keep theirs” according to the official GC newsletter that year, noting that the tradition prevailed. The missile wing mascots pictured (clockwise, from bottom left) are Whiteman AFB’s War Chief, Grand Forks’ Warrior of the North, Malmstrom AFB’s High Plains Warrior, and Minot AFB’s Teddy Roosevelt. Not shown is F.E. Warren AFB’s Wrangler. (Photo courtesy of the Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum)

Capt. Peter Woelkers, 12th Missile Squadron, right, leads the 341st Missile Wing in a cheer at an Air Force Space Command Guardian Challenge 1997 Space and Missile Competition rally at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Mascots also acted as their team’s bus driver during competitions at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. Woelkers, a Lewis and Clark expedition living history interpreter, wore his own gear and clothing to give the High Plains Warrior an authentic frontier look. (Photo courtesy of 341st MW Historian Office)

Capt. Peter Woelkers, 12th Missile Squadron, right, leads the 341st Missile Wing in a cheer at an Air Force Space Command Guardian Challenge 1997 Space and Missile Competition rally at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Mascots also acted as their team’s bus driver during competitions at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. Woelkers, a Lewis and Clark expedition living history interpreter, wore his own gear and clothing to give the High Plains Warrior an authentic frontier look. (Photo courtesy of 341st MW Historian Office)

The High Plains Warrior, Team Malmstrom’s mascot for Guardian Challenge 1999, Staff Sgt. Kevin Barber, 341st Logistics Support Squadron, leads the team in a cheer on the flight line at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. The 341st Space Wing won the Blanchard Trophy for Best ICBM Wing in 1998, the year the Blanchard was restored as a wing-level trophy after Air Force Space Command reduced it to a squadron trophy in 1994, and won it again in 1999 to become the first space wing to earn the Blanchard two consecutive years at AFSPC’s Guardian Challenge Space and Missile Competition. The mascot’s fur cap was still part of his identity in 2002 when the 341st SW again won the Blanchard. (Photo courtesy of 341st MW Historian Office)

The High Plains Warrior, Team Malmstrom’s mascot for Guardian Challenge 1999, Staff Sgt. Kevin Barber, 341st Logistics Support Squadron, leads the team in a cheer on the flight line at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. The 341st Space Wing won the Blanchard Trophy for Best ICBM Wing in 1998, the year the Blanchard was restored as a wing-level trophy after Air Force Space Command reduced it to a squadron trophy in 1994, and won it again in 1999 to become the first space wing to earn the Blanchard two consecutive years at AFSPC’s Guardian Challenge Space and Missile Competition. The mascot’s fur cap was still part of his identity in 2002 when the 341st SW again won the Blanchard. (Photo courtesy of 341st MW Historian Office)

Col. Sandra Finan, 341st Space Wing commander, left, and Grizzly, the 341st SW Guardian Challenge team mascot, entertain an audience during competition return celebration Aug. 21, 2006, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The 341st SW won the Blanchard Trophy for Best ICBM Wing at Air Force Space Command’s Guardian Challenge 2006 Space and Missile Competition. The wing mascot’s appearance has changed very little since this photo was taken. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Col. Sandra Finan, 341st Space Wing commander, left, and Grizzly, the 341st SW Guardian Challenge team mascot, entertain an audience during competition return celebration Aug. 21, 2006, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The 341st SW won the Blanchard Trophy for Best ICBM Wing at Air Force Space Command’s Guardian Challenge 2006 Space and Missile Competition. The wing mascot’s appearance has changed very little since this photo was taken. (U.S. Air Force photo)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. --

You may know him as Grizzly. You probably call him Roadkill. And perhaps you even remember him as the High Plains Warrior.

And a warrior he is. He has represented Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, for almost three decades at missile competitions hosted by Strategic Air Command, Air Combat Command, Air Force Space Command and Air Force Global Strike Command.

With a musket in hand and a bear skin draped over his shoulders, the mysterious mountain man energizes Airmen with his rousting traditional battle cry:

“Aces in the Hole, Read em’ and weep! Malmstrom, Malmstrom, can’t be beat!”

The origins of Malmstrom’s mascot are as murky as the Upper Missouri River, the legendary headwaters that drew trappers and fur traders in the early 1800s.

There were no mascots at Strategic Air Command’s first Missile Combat Competition in 1967. Wings evolved their demonstrations of pride throughout the next decade for the annual competitions held at Vandenberg AFB, California, eventually developing full-fledged mascots by 1981. Early mascots for the 341st Strategic Missile Wing included a cowboy in 1985 and a bear in 1987.

The buckskinned bellower made his debut around 1989 and was then known as the High Plains Warrior. The warrior fronted the team in 1991 when the 341st SMW became the first wing to win the Blanchard Trophy for Best ICBM Wing in two consecutive years at SAC’s Olympic Arena Missile Combat Competition.

SAC inactivated in 1992. Air Combat Command hosted the final Olympic Arena competition in 1993.

The following year, Air Force Space Command became the home of the six Minuteman wings. The missile competition was revamped as the Guardian Challenge Space and Missile Competition to include AFSPC’s space wings. Missile wing mascots were nearly eliminated because of the restructuring.

“The space wings don’t have mascots here, and there was some debate on whether or not missileers could keep theirs,” according to the Guardian Challenge 1994 event newsletter. “But mascots have been a tradition, and in the end, they stayed. Still, there was some uncertainty as to what role they’d play at Guardian Challenge.”

Many acted as their team’s bus driver. This gave mascots an official purpose at competition events.

Peter Woelkers, now 341st MW chief of weapon safety, accepted the role in 1997. He was a captain in the 12th Missile Squadron then, and a few years older than his counterparts. The wing commander wanted a bus driver with maturity. And it didn’t hurt that Woelkers was also a Lewis and Clark Honor Guard member familiar with muskets and frontier apparel.

Woelkers remembers the nickname “Roadkill” was already firmly established then, probably attributed to the fur headpiece the High Plains Warrior wore. Woelkers chose to wear a brimmed hat from his personal collection instead, pinned up on one side in early 1800s fashion. He also wore a brain-tanned, elk hide shirt and carried his personal musket, giving the mascot a unique look that year.

Firing blanks was a tradition for the High Plains Warrior and other missile wing mascots – loud, smoky blasts at indoor rallies and on flight lines, at the competition venues and even the score posting ceremony at Vandenberg AFB. Woelkers said he fired off three pounds of gunpowder at Guardian Challenge 1997 events. He used his experience to write safety guidelines for Malmstrom’s future mascots.

The High Plains Warrior returned to his Roadkill roots in 1998, complete with the pelt on his pate. The 341st SW brought home the Blanchard Trophy that year and again in 1999. The talisman powers of Roadkill’s carrion cap helped the wing garner the trophy once more in 2002.

The next Guardian Challenge competition was in 2004. It continued as a biennial event in 2006 and 2008 and both were Blanchard Trophy years for Malmstrom. The 341st SW mascot began wearing his signature snarling bear headdress during this period and was introduced as Grizzly.

Malmstrom’s bruin-wearing backwoodsman endured as a tradition at AFGSC’s first Global Strike Challenge in 2010. He helped the 341st MW bring back the Blanchard in 2015 and the consecutive GSC in 2017 for yet another back-to-back win.

Regardless of the name the 341st MW’s mascot is known by, he continues to energize competitors, roust crowds and symbolically represent the wing at GSC events every competition year.

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